STRONG SPIRITS
Alice Duncan


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Zebra, Feb 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical Mystery, Roaring Twenties

It is sophisticated Pasadena in the Roaring Twenties, but nineteen year old Daisy Majesty is busy supporting a big family. She does it the best way she knows how: she is a fake medium. In spite of her youth, Daisy has trained herself to project motherly spirituality to the rich people who hire her to give seances. In a rich, lively tone, Daisy tells us all about playing the role of Rolly, the spirit guide she invented, dishing out the soothing, trite phrases her clients love. It isn't just put on for her act, though. Daisy is genuinely affectionate and makes people feel better.

Her best clients, the Kincaids, fall suddenly into disaster. There are the nice Kincaids, mother Madeline and son Harold, and the awful Kincaids, father Eustace and daughter Stacy. Of course it is the awful Kincaids causing the trouble. Stacy gets arrested and Eustace disappears, amid a cloud of whispers about financial misconduct. Daisy is in the middle of it because Mrs. Kincaid is dependent on her, and because Stacy is screeching to the heavens that her father has been murdered by a friend of Daisy’s. Way too many people keep crying on Daisy’s shoulder.

The detective in charge of the case demands Daisy’s help, reminding her ominously that fortunetelling is illegal. The unfortunately attractive Detective Sam Rotondo is putting a serious crimp in Daisy’s life. Not only is he, in effect, blackmailing her to spy on the Kincaids, he invades her home and makes friends with her cranky, crippled husband Billy. On top of that, the detective will not listen when Daisy tells him she is sure she knows where to find Eustace. He should know better.

Author Alice Duncan frequently has Daisy comment on the state of the world of her day. This isn’t a history lesson. Far from it, it comes across as another delightful expression of Daisy’s personality. Daisy’s observations of President Harding are used to create a moment of harmony with her husband. The main impact of Prohibition on Daisy’s life is its positive effect on her marriage; it also plays a part in the story of Stacy Kincaid. The conditions of life for the Kincaids’ servants, including Daisy’s friends and family, are an important part of the story. Daisy’s two methods of transportation are a horse and buggy and an old Model-T, both having entertaining crotchets. Every time Daisy cranks up the Model-T and makes a dash for the driver’s seat to start the engine before losing the charge, I feel like I have been transported in time.

STRONG SPIRITS is written in a bouncy, humorous style that makes fun reading. Whether Daisy is commenting on the gullibility of the rich, breathing vengeance on the people responsible for ruining her husband’s health, or leaping to the defense of a friend, nothing gets her spirits down for long. Con artist or no, Daisy is the kind of friend to have in times of trouble. She is a loving and lovable heroine, and her "profession" gives her lots of potential for future adventures.

UPDATE: The sequel to STRONG SPIRITS, named FINE SPIRITS, was published in July 2003.

Feb 2003 Review Originally Published on WOR

 

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