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Natasha Mostert certainly likes to write a mystery and push the boundaries. The title "Season of the Witch" perfectly sums up this novel; but then there’s more. Far more. In this case it’s something called "remote viewing" which that Wikipedia link describes as "…the purported ability for a viewer to gather information on a remote target consisting of an object, place, or person, etc., that is hidden from the physical perception of the viewer and typically separated from the viewer at some distance or time." This is clearly a mystery that deserves a tag of "and now for something completely different". So what do we get?
In a nutshell: Gabriel Blackstone is a computer hacker based in London. He also has the talent of remote viewing, something he left behind some time ago after a bad experience. But the girlfriend he let down at the same time re-enters his life asking for his help. She’s now married to man who has lost his son and both she and her husband would like Gabriel to investigate the son’s disappearance. The last known whereabouts of the son had him ensconced in a certain Gothic pile in Chelsea in the company of two sisters, the wonderfully named Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk who are descendants of John Dee and significantly appealing in more ways than one. And so begins another investigation for Gabriel as well as another journey that uses his remote viewing skills and leads him into very dangerous territory…
This novel has some quite beautiful prose along with compelling and intriguing characters – the Monk sisters being the key two. It comes as no surprise that Gabriel, once he has made contact with the Monk sisters is beguiled by both and takes his eyes off the task at hand. They are very intelligent and capable women, but also quite different; both of them lead Gabriel into realms unknown when it comes to living life. Due to his hacking skills, he is able to read the words of one of them in her journal and is completely captivated, falling in love with the journal’s author, but never knowing which sister she is. And here comes the rub – due to his remote viewing skills, reluctantly revisited, Gabriel also works out early on that one of the sisters is also a murderer.
"Season of the Witch" is heavy on atmosphere with very strong characterisations. The appeal of the Monk sisters, which attracts Gabriel, is completely tangible and credible. (I suspect that a female reader would even want to be one, minus the murderous predilection, of course…) The mystery of what happened to the son is cleared up quite soon in the novel, but the mystery of the story – Gabriel’s journey into the world of the Monk sisters and how he deals with that and how he might survive it – becomes the focus. And it is nothing but tense reading at all times.
We’re talking remote viewing skills here, don’t forget. So, even though there’s a murder in there, a kind and friendly detective from the Met is not about to suddenly arrive on the scene and drag one or both sisters off to the interview room to make his/her case. The ability to "remote view" can be a powerful one, so expect a dénouement to beat all others you’ve read recently.
As a crime fiction aficionado, I thought I might hate this novel, but I didn’t. I thought the "remote viewing lark" – (my choice of words) – would be a killer for me. Not so. If you can suspend that element of disbelief, as I did, this novel is a great read, a great mystery with a compelling plot.
Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk are unarguably seductive. So are the plot and the novel.