Last weekend I finished reading The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker. Before I started the book, I decided that I shouldn’t spend time reading it immediately before I went outside in the evenings to work in the farmyard. I feared that I would jump at every noise and shadow. I soon found that The Witch of Napoli isn’t that type of book but it gripped me, nevertheless.
This is how the publisher, Palladino Books describes the novel: “Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, erotic medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers?
Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. The Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe.”
On the personal level as well as the grander historical one, the novel spins an engrossing tale. It convincingly evokes the era, early in the twentieth century, when the Western world yearned to know whether there was an afterlife, and spiritualism and the investigation of psychic phenomenon flourished. And it entertains readers as it opens a window into the personal triumphs and struggles of the main characters, Alessandra Poverelli and Tomaso Labella.
When I began the book, I expected to find myself unnerved by a chilling ghost story and was surprised to discover that the story centres around the investigation of Alessandra’s psychic powers and spends little time dwelling on events that occur during the séances. I wasn’t disappointed by this though as I became absorbed in the quest to discover whether Alessandra would be proved genuine or not.
The novel gripped me for several reasons: I was fascinated by the portrayal of the early twentieth century in Italy and England; the suspense of the trials to test Alessandra’s psychic powers kept me turning the pages and the relationships between the main characters resonated with me.
A vital part of any story that I enjoy is the connection I feel with the characters. I found it easy to empathise with these characters. Alessandra’s impoverished life with a brutal partner disturbed me and I rooted for her to break free of it. I liked the shy and resourceful Tomaso and cheered his efforts to rise in his career. There were poignant moments for both of them when relationships they cherished were wrenched from them. These incidents deepened my connection to the characters and the novel.
In summary, The Witch of Napoli has lots going for it: a good historical story as well as tales of suspense and romance. I can easily recommend the novel to readers.
About Michael Schmicker: He is an investigative journalist and nationally known writer on the paranormal. He’s been a featured guest on national broadcast radio talk shows, including twice on Coast to Coast AM (560 stations in North America, with 3 million weekly listeners). He also shares his investigations through popular paranormal webcasts including Skeptiko, hosted by Alex Tsakiris; Speaking of Strange with Joshua Warren; the X-Zone, with Rob McConnell (Canada); and he even spent an hour chatting with spoon-bending celebrity Uri Geller on his program Parascience and Beyond (England). He is the co-author of The Gift, ESP: The Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People (St. Martin’s Press). The Witch of Napoli is his debut novel. Michael began his writing career as a crime reporter for a suburban Dow-Jones newspaper in Connecticut, and worked as a freelance reporter in Southeast Asia for three years. He has also worked as a stringer for Forbes magazine, and Op-Ed contributor to The Wall Street Journal Asia. His interest in investigating the paranormal began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand where he first encountered a non-Western culture which readily accepts the reality of ghosts and spirits, reincarnation, psychics, mediums, divination, and other persistently reported phenomena unexplainable by current Science. He lives and writes in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a mountaintop overlooking Waikiki and Diamond Head.