A Harvard man, Martin Finch is working on an advanced degree with limited resources. When an opportunity arises to be the paid assistant of a well-respected professor, the offer is too good to refuse. As the professor’s right-hand man, Finch is involved with debunking the current Spiritualist craze. By 1886 Spiritualism is gaining favor in society, inspiring hybrid religions, including Christian Science.
The Scientific American, a magazine dedicated to the exploration of all things related to physical science, is sponsoring a contest: they will award $5,ooo -- an enormous amount of money in 1922 -- to any medium who can pass rigorous testing as proof of legitimate contact with the spirit world. Finch’s precise mind fits perfectly into his new employment, and he successfully engineers the demystification of a number of frauds. That is until he meets Mina Crawley, a young married spiritualist recommended to the committee by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Martin is unprepared for the decidedly unscientific experience of falling in love.
Substituting for the indisposed professor, Finch is charged with exposing the trickery behind the séances, but as a product of Victorian repression, he is unable to maintain objectivity under the scrutiny of a beautiful woman. The conundrum for Finch is that his scientific mind is perfectly checkmated by the clever Mrs. Crawley, who appeals to the romantic nature of a young man with little experience of the opposite sex, playing cat-and-mouse with his emotions.
The central mystery posed in Inamorata is whether the medium is authentic and deserves the prize, or if there is another explanation for strange occurrences that include random movement of objects, a strange man’s voice and a physical presence in the room where the séance is held. Meant to be detached and practical, Finch is well-intentioned, but once he is enamored of Mina, his abilities are compromised. Still, Finch leaves no stone unturned, seeking to expose Mrs. Crawley’s methods. His curiosity takes him to a number of unsavory places, placing him frequently at risk and certainly out of his element in the sprawling city of Philadelphia. Unconsciously, the young man realizes that his judgment is flawed, yet he continues to probe for answers to the supposed phenomena. It is daily more difficult for Finch to serve as inquisitor when the person who will be most be injured is the woman he loves.
Joseph Gangemi’s period piece is stuffy and tedious, a perfect example of post-Victorian society with it’s attendant upper-class mannerisms. The characters, especially the men, are pompous and pretentious, while Mina is the delicate female, subject to fainting spells, who must be protected. This is a rigid, structured society, even though Prohibition has brought added commerce into a thirsty city. Those engaged in the pursuit of the paranormal have all the priggish sensibilities of entitlement.
The world is rushing toward a future that can scarcely be imagined in 1922, but the author creates a small island of spiritual pursuits where the normal challenges the paranormal. This tight little tale is but a chapter in Mr. Finch’s young life, but it is also a microcosm of the early twentieth century, where mores and assumptions are questioned and examined. Finch proves that no matter how pure one’s intentions, human nature will intervene, imprinting each endeavor with a human face.