In the Tenth House
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". . . a story rich in historical detail of the time in Victorian England . . ."
In the Tenth House by Laura Dietz transports readers to the fascinating world of Victorian England where spiritualism and science collide. The story is told from the point of view of the male protagonist, Dr. Ambrose Gennett.
He meets Miss Lily Emley, a fake medium but true psychic, when she is injured at Victoria Station. While attending her, she speaks a prophecy which the doctor cannot forget. She tells him . . . and he is amazed as he has never spoken of this to anyone and assumes she is prophesizing about the women of his family. Before he can question her further, she disappears into the crowd. Obsessed with finding the woman, he enters the dark underbelly of London but never finds her. So he hires, thugs to do so.
Gennett is considered a rogue doctor since he believes in Freud’s theories not generally accepted by his associates. Two school mates, also doctors, encourage him to abandon pushing these theories, but Gennett refuses. He is well renown for his forward thinking, and is determined to bring this knowledge to the general public.
Lily’s mother has trained her to be a charlatan, not believing she has any real talent. Lily is adept in the tricks of the trade, but in actuality, her “false” spirit messages are guided by tarot cards and horoscopes that she consults frequently. Lily believes in her own talent, but she must do whatever is necessary to support herself and her mother, especially after her mother falls terminally ill. With her mother dying, Lily must borrow money from a disreputable moneylender to assure the comfort of her mother’s last days.
Because of the debts she incurred she agrees to help a con man, Monsieur St. Aubin, produce a risky but lucrative séance at the home of a wealthy and influential aristocrat. When Dr. Gennett discovers that his own sister and aunt have come under Lily’s spell, he is determined to expose her for a fraud. He shows up at the country house for the event and discredits her entirely, much to his satisfaction. St. Aubin runs out on Lily, leaving her to face the angry hosts and guests.
When she eventually reaches her apartment, she finds debt collectors waiting who almost beat her to death, disfiguring her face and breaking her hands and fingers. And while a body cannot be found, the alleged murder is placed at Dr. Gennett’s door.
Having alienated his sister and colleagues, he now becomes the target of blackmail threats and character assassination. He is accused of degenerative behavior with female patients and consorting with the wife of one his patients and making her his mistress. It is obvious that someone has conspired against him, but that aspect of the plot is never totally revealed.
Discharged from his medical duties and disgraced, his sister is convinced by a fellow practitioner, Dr. Maurice Booth, to have him temporarily committed to an institution to avoid prosecution for murder. While his sister is reluctant, it appears to be the only way to save the family’s reputation. Ultimately, she marries Dr. Booth, who quickly exhausts the family fortune and leaves his wife to cope with bankruptcy.
Dr. Gennett, though very sane, by being committed to an insane asylum, becomes insane over the years. Miss Lily in order to marginally support her self, resorts to sordid methods until she eventually relocates to the United States. There she works for a psychiatrist barely making enough money to sustain herself.
It is a story rich in historical detail of the time in Victorian England when it was considered chic to employ mediums, and where the theories of Freud were rejected by most learned men. However, the plot was so complex that the reader could miss the some of the subtleties and hints of future dangers. Lengthy compound sentences sometimes lose the reader’s interest. The historical detail, while interesting, slow down the pacing, but the pacing picks up to a crescendo toward the end of the book.
While a prodigious effort on the author’s part, the ending was a disappointment. Dr. Gennett was not an evil man and Miss Lily was a good woman, but once their paths crossed, their lives seemed doomed.
Reviewer: Sandra McCart