The Story Behind The Book

The Story Behind The Book

Why psychics & mediums play a big role

The plot for In the Spirit of Murder didn’t strike me like a lightning bolt. I didn’t just wake up one morning and say “Ah-hah! I’ve got it!” No. What happened was, well . . . mundane. I was swilling coffee one morning and somehow I happened to flash back onto a long-ago, just-for-fun experience I’d had with a psychic named Reverend Marvel Muir. She was a little old lady with a grandmotherly demeanor who lived in a small, clapboard house in St. Petersburg, Florida. She never advertised, but nevertheless drew believers and skeptics to her doorstep with regularity—including, I’m told, politicians and high-profile business people.

Her method was simple: She would invite clients to her small sun porch and ask them to write questions on a piece of paper while she busied herself elsewhere on the porch. During my session, she tended to two injured sparrows in a cage. She remained within view, but with her back to me. Then, she simply asked me to fold the paper and seal it in an envelope. Prep work out of the way, she finally sat across from me, making idle chit-chat, all the while lightly feeling the sealed envelope as if it were written in Braille. A few minutes later, she answered the questions.

For my visit, I had precisely twenty questions. Some were specific and would require her to know details of my past that she couldn’t have known. (I’d provided her only my first name.) My other questions were speculative: Would such-and-such happen in my life?

I didn’t expect much from our session. My background then was largely in newspaper work and I was—and remain—a trained skeptic. Still, I did hope for a measure of entertainment equal to the twenty-five or thirty dollars I’d paid. As it turned out, I got that and more. Reverend Muir answered nineteen of my twenty questions. (One was where would I live next —something I didn’t even know — and she told me. Because of a job offer, it turned out that I did wind up where she said I would.) Even then, though, I couldn’t know how accurately her responses to any of my speculative questions would hold up over time. But what really impressed me most? She knew what the questions were. There was no way— no way —she could’ve seen through that envelope. I’d examined it myself, sealed it myself. All she did was feel it. She didn’t even look at it. She just felt it.

Well, on two occasions in the years since that session with Reverend Muir, I also visited a Florida community called Cassadaga. Most of the people who live there are psychics or mediums. I went with the same skepticism with which I’d originally visited Reverend Muir and indeed, on both visits I was more or less disappointed. It’s not that the Cassadaga experiences were bad, but they felt like mere entertainment and whatever the psychics told me seemed so general their responses could have applied to anyone. Therefore, I couldn’t help but measure the Cassadaga psychics against Reverend Muir, and I remain persuaded she was one in a million. Still, those collective experiences did get me to thinking, and ultimately the whole notion of psychic phenomenon appealed to me as the basis for a murder mystery. In the Spirit of Murder began to take shape. Six months and 78,000 words later I had a manuscript and a book was born.