Random first lines from a random book plucked from the stack on my desk–a novel by Australian writer John Harwood called The Seance, published last month by HMH. This gothic thriller is set in Victorian England, and yes, contains a house, a mystery, and murder.

“January 1889

“If my sister Alma had lived, I should never have begun the seances. She died of scarlatina, soon after her second birthday, when I was five years old. I remember only fragments from the time before she died: Mama dancing Alma on her knee, and singing as she would never do again; reading my primer aloud to Mama while she rocked Alma’s cradle with her foot; walking beside Annie, our nurse, while she pushed the perambulator past the Foundling Hospital with me holding on to the frame. I remember coming home after one of those walks and being allowed to nurse Alma by the drawing-room fire, feeling the heat of the flames on my cheek as I held her. I remember, too–though perhaps I was only told of it–lying in a cot and shivering, looking up at a window which seemed very small and far away, and hearing the sound of weeping, muffled as if through thick cotton wool.”

–From The Seance, by John Harwood