David Jaher’s stunning and brilliantly written account of the battle between the Great Houdini and the blond Witch of Lime Street illuminates a lost period in American history. Improbably, it also offers significant lessons about the formation of people’s beliefs and the sources of social divisions—scientific, political, or otherwise.
It's a delightful history, a captivating mystery, and thanks to Jaher's stylish flourishes, even the big reveals maintain an air of high-wire theatricality — like any good magician, The Witch of Lime Street knew what we wanted all along.
Mr. Jaher, a former screenwriter and astrologer, doesn’t proffer an apologia for spiritualism, but the book is fair to its entire cast of flamboyant, enigmatic and complex characters. He is also a diligent researcher, and his storytelling skills are impressive.
The supernatural moments of The Witch of Lime Street are balanced by the author's deft contextualization and inclusion of correspondence and other archival materials. Lurid and almost unbelievable, Jaher's debut is a fascinating and sensational chapter of U.S. history.
Jaher does not fully explore the reason why spiritualists were so popular: the very human yearning to be in touch with loved ones who have died. It’s hard to overestimate the desire to hear from a late spouse or parent or child, and how strongly that desire can affect our need to believe in extraordinary happenings. The Witch of Lime Street is sure to be an important addition to Houdini studies, but it is neither a psychological treatise on the need to connect with the afterlife nor a triumph of skeptical reportage.