Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Hypnotist by Gordon Snider (3.5 stars)

About The Hypnotist 

Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Helm Publishing (August 3, 2009)

In 1906, San Francisco has reached the peak of its golden age. Fortunes have created a society that attracts European opera singers and cordon bleu chefs. It is a world defined by elegant balls, oysters, and champagne. But there are darker sides to the city as well. The Mission district south of Market Street houses tenements where shanties huddle together and rats plague the streets. And nearby sits Chinatown, an endless warren of dark alleys that offers gambling, prostitution, and opium, all controlled by vicious gangs, called tongs.

Into these disparate worlds steps Marta Baldwin, a young woman who has shunned her own social background to help the poor. She is confronted by a hypnotist, a man who hypnotizes young women from the tenements and delivers them to the tongs in Chinatown to work in their brothels. Marta escapes his hypnotic trance, but when her assistant, Missy, disappears, Marta realizes she has been taken by the evil man who confronted her. She seeks the help of Byron Wagner, one of San Francisco’s most prominent citizens. Marta finds herself drawn to Byron but knows his high social standing prevents any possibility of a relationship between them. This is confirmed when Marta discovers Byron having an intimate conversation with Lillie Collins, the daughter of one of the city’s most elite families. Marta is flushed with jealousy. However, Lillie defies social customs, and her rebellious nature fits naturally with Marta’s. Despite her envy, the two women become close friends. Marta is caught up in a whirlwind of opulent balls, opium dens and brothels, and police raids in Chinatown. She cannot deny her feelings for Byron, but she must save Missy and protect her new friends from harm. For lurking in the background is the hypnotist. He has become obsessed with Marta and will use all his guile to ensnare her. When he threatens those she loves, Marta is determined to stop him, even at her own peril. Will her boldness entrap her? If so, how can she hope to escape the man’s hypnotic embrace? Then the earth trembles, and Marta’s world will never be the same.

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Most people would  Marta Baldwin is a spoiled rich girl, but they only knew part of the story. Not only is her brother running their family business, and livelihood, into the ground, but she devotes her time to helping those less fortunate.

Her world is shaken by an encounter with a hypnotist, who uses his ability to kidnap young women (it felt like modern day human trafficking). He becomes obsessed with her, because she seems impervious to his abilities. A game of cat and mouse ensues. Will she make it okay? Will anyone in the area be safe?

One of the reasons I picked this book to review was the San Francisco setting. I've lived in the Bay area for the last two years, and I find the area fascinating. In that way, this book succeeded... the reader is transported to San Francisco in the early 1900s. I love it when setting becomes a character, and that was very much true here.

Still, for me to love a book, there has to be an intriguing and memorable main character (bonus points for multiple characters who fit the bill). Again, the book scores points here. Marta Baldwin bucks the rules society has for her, shows determination and strength, and faces problems head on. I love these qualities in a heroine. Plus, the book is full of other interesting secondary characters.

Then there's the aspect of a captivating storyline with unique elements. Again, the novel scores. I love the paranormal twist of a hypnotist with subtle abilities, something that could explain some of history's lesser understood crimes. 

Why 3.5 stars? 

I'm sure after reading the praise above, you're wondering why not a higher rating. It comes down to editing and missed opportunity. As an editor myself, I have a keen eye. For an incredible story, I can look past some mistakes. Lord knows nobody is perfect. But there were too many (pronoun issues galore) and some odd sentence structure that I stumbled over (which is always a negative because it pulls the reader out of the story). And I thought the book could have been so much better without the romance and with more paranormal/drama elements. It could have been deliciously dark.

Finally, alternating point of views can be amazing, but too often they are confusing. I liked seeing into the hypnotist's mind (actually would have liked more of it), but changing tenses on top of point of view changes proved a bit cumbersome to me.

Overall, however, The Hypnotist is an intriguing story that would appeal to fans of historical fiction (with a particular interest in San Francisco and the time period) and mysteries.

Rating: 3.5 stars

About Gordon Snider

Gordon Snider has written three non-fiction books, including his latest, I’m Travelling as Fast as I Can, which takes a humorous journey to far-away-places around the world. When he moved to California’s Central Coast in 1999, he began writing fiction. The Origamist is his fifth novel and a sequel to his third, The Hypnotist, a very popular historical thriller that is set in San Francisco in 1906. The other novels include: Sigourney’s Quest, an adventure story about a woman’s harrowing journey across Tibet; The Separatist, a mystery/suspense novel set in modern San Francisco; and Venice Lost, an adventure/fantasy about a man who becomes lost in time in Venice, Italy.

Gordon has lived in California nearly his entire life. Home has ranged from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with stops in Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach. Currently, he and his wife, Fe, enjoy walking the beaches and observing the migrating whales from their home in Pismo Beach. It is, he says, the perfect setting for creative writing.

Find out more about Gordon and his books on his website.

Thanks to TLC for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own. 

Please visit other stops on The Hypnotist blog tour page.


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

This era in San Francisco is exciting to read about but I'm sure it would have been challenging to live through.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!