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Graves Gate: A Novel of Possession    by Dennis Burges order for
Graves Gate
by Dennis Burges
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Dennis Burges's debut novel Graves Gate treats reading audiences to a chilling, paranormal thriller with the atmosphere of a work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Set in post-World War I (1920s) London, the mystery actually includes Doyle as a character. The unique plot enters the world of spiritualism (communicating with the dead) and early psychiatric practices.

Sir Arthur engages American Charles Blake, an Associate Press reporter based in London, to investigate a letter purportedly sent to Doyle by psychologist Bernard Gussmann. The letter contains information about a past meeting with Doyle that only Gussmann could have known about. Included in the mysterious letter is a request that Doyle put one of three people in contact with Helen Wickham, who was a former patient of Gussmann and is now on death row. One catch ... Gussmann has presumably been dead since 1909! Is Gussmann reaching out to Sir Arthur from the spirit world? Is the letter a hoax to enlist Sir Arthur's intervention to save Wickham from hanging?

Charles engages the assistance of Adrianna Wallace, wife of a prominent member of Parliament. Adrianna is a former battlefield nurse whose London connections will allow her to open doors for Charles, which may prove beneficial to the investigation. The duo discovers that the persons named in the letter - Liza Anatole, Robert Stanton, and Mary Hopson were all past patients of Morton Graves Hospital. There is a search for coded journals that may hold the key to the diabolical works of Dr. Gussmann and his practice of 'subgnostic (beneath knowledge) possession.' Answers are sought as to why Gussmann's former patients suffer blackouts and murderous mood swings ... could it be that the doctor is controlling them from beyond the grave?

The novel is engrossing from beginning to end. Supernatural aspects of hypnosis/possession are strongly developed as are the characterizations. I recommend Graves Gate to anyone who appreciates an absorbing historical mystery, which follows a different track with a clever solution. In the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 'You're not a spirit from the hereafter, Gussmann. You're a freak of nature.' Burges is an author to keep an eye on, and I look forward to his next offering.

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