Book Nook: ‘The Possessions’ struggles to mystify, falls flat with characters

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The world is littered with people who would pay any price to speak to a deceased loved one.

Enter Sara Flannery Murphy’s world in “The Possessions” and find the Elysian Society, where you can pay to have your departed loved one come and possess one of the workers. “The Possessions” is told through the eyes of Eurydice, the longest lasting body, which is what the book calls the worker who plays host to the departed spirit. However, she and her surroundings are shrouded in mystery.

Eurydice had been an exemplary employee of the Elysian Society, following all the rules and never getting attached to clients, until Patrick Braddock came to use Eurydice to reunite with his dead wife Sylvia. She begins to fall in love with Patrick, but the reader gets the disjointed feeling after a while that her feelings may not be love and instead something more sinister.

As with most mystery novels, readers have to watch closely for details to slip. Murphy’s use of dialogue was subtle, and I ended up having to go back and re-read sections to find hints of the danger I had missed, like in the conversation below:

“‘It’s not always easy,’ Lee says. ‘The woman wasn’t coming from a bad place. Turning her away before she took things any further – it might not have felt like helping. But it was.’

“‘Helping yourself?’ I give the words a slim edge. 

“‘Helping her.’ Lee’s eyes on mine remain steady. ‘You know it’s true, Edie. Sometimes helping our clients means stepping away from them. Setting them free before they hurt themselves, or hurt us.’”

I first picked up “The Possessions” as it reminded me of Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV series “Dollhouse.” Unfortunately, it is harder for a book to hold up the suspense than for a visual mystery on a TV show, and “The Possessions” struggled to keep the suspense interesting.

Most of the answers readers are looking for are heavily weighted towards the back third of the book. While I couldn’t expect for Murphy to give up even half her secrets by mid-book, the middle of the book sagged for lack of mysterious payoff. By the time I started to find out what was going on, I was annoyed and felt like I had been following Eurydice in unfulfilling circles. And some of the information revealed, like Eurydice’s past, would have been better to bring up sooner, rather than in the last few chapters, which is another issue I had with the book.

Readers get to know next to nothing about Eurydice, which for me, made me care less about her — especially as the story dragged on. When Eurydice’s past was finally revealed, I felt frustrated. If it had been revealed earlier on, so much more of what was happening would have made sense and would have helped the other mysterious threads weave into the story. Instead, the other threads tried to prop up her past as the big reveal, only to have it fall flat.

However, I do think “The Possessions” is worth both a read and a re-read. I’m suspecting as I go through the book a second time I will enjoy the story more because I can finally connect with and understand Eurydice’s story.

Dixie Sun rating: 3 suns out of 5