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EMPEROR NORTON'S GHOST
By Dianne Day
Doubleday (1998) hardcover
Bantam, (June, 1999) paperback, 320 pages. $5.99
Reviewed by J. Ashley
In this fourth installment in the Freemont Jones series, Freemont, back in San Francisco once more, enters the world of spiritualism and the occult. Freemont and her friend, Frances, attend a sitting with a medium, where Frances, to everyone's surprise (including Frances's) goes into a trance and reveals her own mediumistic talent.
Later Frances tells Freemont that she has begun automatic writing, relaying messages from Emperor Norton, who, in life, was an eccentric man who styled himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. The emperor has remembered where he stashed some valuable property and asks Frances to find it.
Freemont isn't certain about all this, but she is certain that a murderer is lurking when not one, but two mediums are stabbed through the heart. Freemont takes up the investigation, probing into the two victims' lives, uncovering their pasts as well as information on mesmerism, hypnotism, somnambulism, and other spiritualistic practices.
In Freemont's personal life, her father writes that he will pay a brief visit, unaccompanied by the wife Freemont loathes. Freemont wonders what this means, and it sets her worrying about her choice in becoming the lover of Michael Kossof, with whom she's set up a private investigating business. Michael, sensing her tension, leaves to pursue business of his own, and Freemont realizes her heart is not as independent as she'd like to think.
Freemont contends with this as well as other problems: the growing attraction between her married friend Frances and a handsome mesmerist; the odd behavior of the third partner in the investigation business; Emperor Norton's demands; and mysterious empty graves.
This book was not as gripping as the first books in this series. Dianne Day draws a wonderful portrait of San Francisco in the early 20th century, but the book moved slowly, and the resolution wasn't satisfying. Day doesn't let us know if the spiritualism is supposed to be real or if Freemont and friends are simply misguided; if that was intended to add suspense, it did not. Also, Michael's dire warnings at the beginning of the book were never explained. I assume Freemont eventually understood what he meant, but Michael himself seemed to forget all about it. Also missing were the excerpts of intriguing manuscripts that Freemont types, because she has, alas for us, given up her typing to be a full-time detective.
The best part about this book was insight into Freemont's personal life--her relationship with her father and with Michael. But other than that, THE STRANGE FILES OF FREMONT JONES, FIRE AND FOG, and THE BOHEMIAN MURDERS are much more readable. I'm left hoping the next novel, DEATH TRAIN TO BOSTON, brings back the fire of the previous books.
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