- Age Range: 8 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 650L (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (July 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385733755
- ISBN-13: 978-0385733755
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,555,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Seance Hardcover – July 8, 2008
From School Library Journal
Grade 5–7—Lawrence explores Houdini's attempts to expose the spiritual fakery of mediums and séances in this novel set in June 1926. Thirteen-year-old Scooter King's mother is a medium; his hero is Houdini. When the great escape artist appears at the Orpheum, it is Scooter who finds a dead man in Houdini's Burmese Torture Tank. Certain that the killer meant to get rid of his idol, Scooter is determined to identify the culprit. Then, two more killings occur. The book is full of period references—to Stanley Steamers, flagpole sitting, the Charleston, etc., as well as slang, such as "the bee's knees," "the cat's pajamas," "the eel's hips," all of which at times bog down the story line. Houdini's eccentric personality is evident, and Scooter is a well-developed character. Secondary figures, however, are one-dimensional. Kids will enjoy learning how some of the illusions and tricks used by mediums work. Most touching is Scooter's coming-of-age awareness that mediums, even his mother, are likely fake. Tom Lalicki's similarly well-researched Danger in the Dark: A Houdini & Nate Mystery (Farrar, 2006) integrates history into mystery in a more lighthearted, entertaining way. An afterword explains how Lawrence became interested in Houdini and which parts of the story are true.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Lawrence takes a grand leap in time, place, and tone from novels like The Wreckers (1998). This book unfolds in New York City in the mid-1920s, during the height of the spiritualist craze. Protagonist Scooter King, 13, knows about mediums; he helps his mother with the “chumps” who attend her séances. Then Houdini arrives, determined to root out fakes, and murder follows. Readers accustomed to the High Seas Trilogy’s derring-do won’t find it here. However, the idea that Houdini used some of the same tricks as the fake spiritualists is definitely intriguing, and Lawrence does a pretty good job of conveying the magician’s quirky personality. He is less successful presenting the rest of the cast, though (Scooter is far too mature for his years), and his attempts to solidify the cultural backdrop by using expressions such as “all to the mustard” and “now he had a mash on my mother” will likely yank readers right out of the story. It’s Lawrence’s wonderful, detailed insight into the tricks of the medium’s trade that saves the day. Grades 5-7. --Stephanie Zvirin
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Scooter King and his mother lived the simple life of a psychic medium and assistant, but things got out of hand when Harry Houdini arrived at the Orpheum Theatre. Houdini was "the berries" as far as magicians went in Scooter's mind. He wanted to meet the great escape artist more than anything in the world, but when his wish came true, both he and his mother, Madame King, became embroiled in a murder spree the likes of which their small town had never known. And it seemed like Scooter was the only person who could solve the murders. He didn't know that associating with Houdini and solving murders could land both of them in a deadly pool of deceit and multiple attempts on their lives.
The Kings had a séance room at the front of their house. Here Madame King conducted meetings in which she contacted the spirits of the dead and relayed their messages to the living. They made a meager but sufficient living of telling visitors what they wanted to hear from their dearly departed loved ones. In 1926 Middle America, psychic readings and magic shows drew curious crowds and repeat audiences who tried to figure out how it was done or just wanted to see something strange.
Author Iain Lawrence captures the persona of the Roaring Twenties with well-chosen slang, clothing, settings and personalities that depict the romantic, free-spirited emotions of the era. From a billy-club-wielding police sergeant to a hat-check girl dressed in a fringed flapper dress, Lawrence weaves familiar markers into this story of murder and magic like a well-rehearsed performance. He never misses a beat or fails to explain the time period details that help move the action along. And there is plenty of action.
Undoubtedly, Lawrence's personal history as a journalist is responsible as he supports THE SÉANCE using newspapers as a common theme throughout the book. The local paper plays an important role in the story. Headlines, advertisements, articles, photographs, the obituaries and gossip columns provide a scaffold as events unfold. The newspaper relays a great deal of information throughout the tale, and the concept serves as interesting glue bringing all the pieces together so that Scooter can solve the murders.
As usual, Lawrence has an amazing command of metaphor and simile that brings all the unusual sights and events into crystal-clear view. There's no sleight of hand, however, when he lists some research titles in the afterword that will help those seeking more information on the subjects of psychic abilities and their history. Lawrence's writing is always a literary delight to devour, and young readers will enjoy this family-rated romp through magic and mayhem and learn a bit about how the tricks are done.
I discovered author Iain Lawrence a few years ago while perusing the junior room of our local library as my daughters searched for their own books. His 2001 title "Lord of the Nutcracker Men" caught my eye. I'm a dance journalist and have performed in hundreds of performances of "The Nutcracker" so you can guess why the book attracted me. It was not another rendition of the famous E.T.A. Hoffmann tale. It was a great book.
Hence, I have kept my eyes peeled for other I.L. books and have read everything he has published since. Love them all. He is a master at tension and story telling, and his use of metaphor and simile is captivating. Librarians, teachers, and parents looking for fiction suitable and interesting to young male readers should definitely look at I.L. books. His journalism background creates tight writing. His writing muscle is unique and strong. His voice is compelling but not beyond the scope of young readers. It's obvious he loves what he writes and believes his stories are worth it. They are.
I'm also a historical romance writer. (First book coming soon!) The question of writing about actual historical figures is a tricky one. Some writers get it and others don't. Lawrence writes his stories around young men (boys and teens) who engage with actual historical figures and he is able to pull off the chore. For "The Seance," Lawrence writes a mystical adventure for twelve year-old Scooter King who meets his idol Harry Houdini. Together they solve a mystery and survive a near-death experience. Again, Lawrence pulls this off masterfully. Believability is a tool he knows how to use.
Lawrence is smart. He provides a list of books at the back of "The Seance" for readers interested in doing their own research on the topics in the book.
I heartily recommend this book to young readers and adults interested in fiction for kids that engages their minds and their emotions in a healthy, literary sense.