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Treacherous is the Night by bestselling author Anna Lee Huber comes out later this month and focuses on WWI’s most vital clandestine fact-collecting organization, La Dame Blanche. For fans of The Bletchley Circle and The Imitation Game, this richly researched drama promises to enthrall.
I had the chance to ask Anna a few questions about her new novel.
What’s your book about? How does it relate to spiritualism?
In the opening pages of Treacherous is the Night, Verity Kent is convinced to attend a séance at a friend’s behest. When the medium channels a woman Verity once worked within the Secret Service, Verity is furious, refusing to believe her former fellow spy is dead. She soon becomes determined to uncover the source of the spiritualist’s classified information. But when the medium is murdered, and her investigation is thwarted by Secret Service agents she once trusted, she’s forced to travel to war-torn Belgium for answers.
Who is your favorite famous spiritualist of the 20th century and why?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but there are some I find are more fascinating than others. Such as Helen Duncan, “Britain’s last witch,” who was arrested for correctly predicting the sinking of a Royal Navy battleship in 1941. The Scotswoman conducted a séance at which she claimed to summon the spirit of a sailor from the HMS Barnham, who said the ship had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. This, in fact, proved to be true, having happened a short time before. However, for morale reasons, this information had not been made public. How she came to possess this information seems obvious, for the families of the ship’s personnel had already been informed by letter from the Royal Navy, and though sworn to secrecy, word of the disaster still leaked out. Regardless, Duncan was considered a threat to national security, closely monitored, and then arrested. In 1944, she was sentenced to nine months in jail for witchcraft, being the last person imprisoned in Britain under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. I couldn’t resist using a version of this colorful tale as a brief anecdote in Treacherous is the Night.
Spiritualism becomes popular after wars because people with deceased loved ones tend to want closure in the form of an other-worldly connection. Besides wanting to communicate with a late loved one, why do you think spiritualism appealed to so many people?
People were absolutely staggered by the tremendous number of casualties from the Great War. Never before had so many lives been lost in so short a time—and young lives at that—and many people were knocked off their axes. They simply didn’t know how to reconcile themselves with something so inconceivable. This led them to seek answers, to seek reassurance, to seek closure in any way they could. Psychology was still in its relative infancy, as was the concept of grief counseling, so people latched on to the hope and comfort that Spiritualism seemed to provide to reassure them that people in some way survived the death of their physical bodies, and passed on to somewhere safe and happy.