Writer’s Garret–Review: The Pluperfect Phantom

Writer’s Garret–Review: The Pluperfect Phantom

By By Christine Swanberg

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

Olivia Diamond’s novel, The Pluperfect Phantom, defies categorization. It doesn’t fit neatly into any commerical slot. That’s because it does so many things at once. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a ghost story. It’s a Chicago crime novel. It takes the reader down not only the real streets of Chicago, but also through some dark Chicago history.

Olivia Diamond’s novel begins with a Foreword that puts the novel into perspective: “This is a work of fiction. Although historical characters and actual places are used, not all the details correspond to historical fact… Dr. Mudgett, known as H. H. Holmes, is taken from Chicago’s crime annals … Nutcotnomeg and Black Partridge were Potawatomi Indians. Thad Majeski, Ottilia, Carol, Gary and Aunt Adele…are products of my imagination.

“The idea for this book came while I was reading extensively about Chicago’s first known serial killer. Only after I had started to incorporate the redoubtable Dr. Herman Mudgett as an apparition into the warp and woof of my novel, did I read biographies or other fictional works using his life as a springboard for the stories. If the reader, too, begins to feel transported into the past, I will be satisfied.”

The setting of the novel is Chicago—not just today but in yesteryear. Fort Dearborn, the Stock Yards, Oak Street Beach, the Hermitage Avenue Polish nieghborhood, Lincoln Park, O’Hare Airport, Grant Park, Montrose Avenue, Jackson Park, Graceland Cemetery, Rogers Park, Wuabaunsee Street, and the Old Levy District on South Street are some of the places the novel takes us. In its near 400 pages, Olivia Diamond’s novel makes Chicago feel real. Here’s just one of many examples:

“The Chicago skyline grayed and loured as the days deepened into late November. The elm trees invited a blanket of snow to cover their naked limbs. The first snowfall lurked in the wings, not yet ready to rescue the city from drabness. For some people, this was the time of year when a leap from the Chicago River bridge might appear to be the cure for all ills. The wind took on a keen edge, cutting the necks and ears of those who refused to fend off the blasts with woolen scarves and hats. Thad held no such resistance, too healthy warning from the steely gray clouds and, as a true Chicago native, donned a fur trimmed Russian style hat to meet the blustery winds.” (pp. 134, 135)

And who is Thad? Thad Majeski is the main character of the novel. He is a bachelor living quietly in the Polish neighborhood when his world is turned completely upside down by love, murder, paranormal visitations of various apparitions, and time travel into the long-ago past of Chicago. Thad is of the real world, as is Ottilia, Aunt Adele, Detective Morrison, Manville, Carol, and Daniel. Dr. Herman Mudgett and Black Partridge are visitors from the dead, who have chosen Thad and his journalist girl friend, Ottilia, to “befriend.” But befriend is really not the right word because Dr. Herman Mudgett is the legendary scoundrel H. H. Holmes returned from the otherworld. Mad Sturgeon speaks through his skull, kept in Thad’s refrigerator.

And who is Dr. Mudgett? None other than a mad doctor fond of murdering vulnerable women for their scientific value, i.e., as cadavers. This villainous character does indeed come out of the sordid files of Chicago history. Black Partridge was a warrior at the Fort Dearborn massacre. (Who knew that Dearborn Street was named after this horrendous event?) Aunt Adele is the dear, elderly psychic aunt who holds the book together; she is matchmaker and believer of things seen and unseen. Of course, it’s Detective Morrison who has been assigned the case.

And what is the case? The disappearance of Carol, Thad’s blast from the past, who has come to visit him in Chicago and ends up mysteriously vanishing. In this novel, ghosts aren’t necessarily friendly. The ghost of Dr. Mudgett is far more than a nuisance; he’s a murderer and seducer of the worst kind. Complicating things further is that the plot involves time travel into the ethereal yet horrific past of Chicago’s most notorious serial killer.

Adding to the spice is a gay neighbor, a love story, and a pregnancy that leaves the reader wondering “Who done it?” This is a tale of spiritwalkers, intrigue, creepy, chilling mystery, love, friendship and history all wickedly thrown together in that witch’s brew called Chicago. It’s a strange, old-fashioned, peppy ghost story with an ending that keeps you wondering whether there will be a sequel.

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