It is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.
When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.
In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.
When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.
Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.
While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.
Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.
Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff