Alice Duncan's gift for fictional detail really shines in this entertaining but difficult-to-classify novel. The story revolves around Mrs. Daisy Gumm Majesty who, though blessed with some paranormal talent, cons a wealthy Hollywood clan into hiring her as a séance host to make a living for herself and her wounded war veteran husband in the Roaring Twenties.
The novel is not, strictly speaking, a romance, although there's a central, heartrending love story and a secondary one as well. Although the heroine's peppy first-person narration rivals the style of contemporary chick lit, there's mostly sexual tension plus an acceptance of Roaring Twenties morals. It's not a straight murder mystery, although that element does play a part. All of these genres are rolled into first-class entertainment that borrows structure from F. Scott Fitzgerald and blasts him out of the water with superior comedy.
In addition, Duncan adroitly challenges two common assumptions of current romance editors. First, that the years from 1900 to World War II aren't historical enough to be interesting. And second, that first-person style is passè. Here's hoping that the honest, moral and wonderfully comic Daisy, her husband, Billy, and the Italian cowboy-pirate-detective Sam Rotondo become series characters in several detective/romance/mystery/paranormal period novels like this one. SENSUAL (Feb., 320 pp., $5.99)