Book Reviews
Inamorata: Joseph Gangemi
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews, Featured Comments Off on Inamorata: Joseph Gangemi
Inamorata: Joseph Gangemi

The novel opens with a sentence of two words – one of the best hooks I’ve ever read. ‘Hypnotize her,’ says a drunken student, shoving a leggy sophomore towards our hero-to-be, Martin Finch. They’re at a party in Emerson’s student lounge in the 1920s, where illicit alcohol is pretty freely available; a crowd gathers and chaos bordering on farce quickly ensues. Hauled before Dr. William McLaughlin, chairman of the psychology department (and expecting trouble), Finch is instead offered a place as assistant to the good doctor, who is heading a team to test mediums for the $5,000 prize set up by The Scientific American for “conclusive manifestations”.

So far so good. Martin Finch’s job is to devise and build equipment that will expose fraudulent psychic manifestations, and in New York three successes quickly follow. It’s only when a historical character, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – creator of Sherlock Holmes and avid Spiritualist – proposes the beautiful and wealthy Philadelphian, Mina Crawley, as a contender for the prize that things become complicated for Martin.

Joseph Gangemi has written an engaging and readable novel, sprinkling it with historical events and characters of the times. Quirky details of the America of the twenties make it easy to become immersed in the story, although there were one or two places where I felt the research was showing. One scene in particular has Martin relating his blow by blow observation of a caesarean section and listing the scalpel sizes – unlikely he’d remember detail like that, as he passed out as soon as the baby’s foot appeared. I felt that the author should have taken a scalpel to some of that section himself.

The novel is more like a detective story than anything else – a nod to Conan Doyle perhaps? I was aware of what seemed to be clues and kept trying to note and remember them, and towards the end found myself wondering how the hell the author would manage to tie everything together. The answer is either that (unlike Conan Doyle), he doesn’t, or that I missed something. Whether it’s up to the reader to work it all out afterwards or whether they should have done that as the novel progressed, I haven’t the faintest, but the end left me feeling that to travel in hope was maybe better than to arrive. I’ve thought about the story (and those clues I mentioned), a lot since I finished reading, and think I’ve arrived at the most likely explanation by way of an anagram and the peculiar relationships between Mina and the men in her life, both past and present, although I’m not at all sure whether it’s the one Joseph Gangemi had in mind. I couldn’t help making a connection between the name of Mina’s brother (Walter), and the pigeon (Walter Pidgeon was an actor in silent movies in the twenties), and see that the publishers have pointed up the importance of the pigeon by placing one on the cover of later editions. Perhaps the author has tried to be a little too clever. But in spite of the odd bump and my uneasiness regarding the ending, the novel is worth the journey for its evocation of the era and (maybe) the exercise it affords the brain. I’m less sure about the humour, which has a distinctly modern flavour and jars in places, and I had a hard time believing in Mina’s husband, the more-than-eccentric gynaecologist Arthur Crawley, whose name contains echoes of that of Aleister Crowley, the notorious occultist. With a clearer ending and a bit of surgery with that scalpel I was on about earlier I reckon this debut novel could have been brilliant. Next time maybe.

Related Posts

Comments are closed.