Book Review: ‘We Hear the Dead’

Rap twice for “yes.” Rap once for “no.”

If spirits weren’t talking through raps, taps and other assorted sounds in the darkened rooms, how were the girls doing it? Some said Maggie and Kate Fox were frauds when they first claimed to hear the dead in Hydesville, New York in 1848.

Perhaps Maggie, the protagonist, had a gift for counseling and perhaps her more adventurous sister Kate truly had the evolving abilities of a medium, even though the whole thing began as a prank. Their mother believed more than they believed. Their older sister Leah saw that if “spirit circles” were properly presented, there was money to be made.

Welcome to the world presented in living color through the well-focused lens of Dianne K. Salerni’s very readable novel “We Hear the Dead.”

While the dashing military hero and Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane, who had his eyes on Maggie, did not believe the rapping came from the spirit world, many of the rich and famous did. The Fox sisters, who were born on the wrong side of the tracks, became sought after by high society. One of the strong points of this novel is the dynamic interplay between historical and fictional characters in believable settings as the sisters travel and attract press attention and large audiences.

Before you begin reading “We Hear the Dead,” you will know that the story is true. As you read, you’ll quickly discover that the Salerni’s wonderful historical novel not only brings the Fox sisters to life, but the dead with whom they spoke as well.

“We Hear the Dead” is real because Salerni knows how to weave solid research and meaningful historical details into a novel that begins with two confessions, moves on to the haunting, and remains strong and vital throughout.

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Garden of Heaven,” “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”