• 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.
Buy, read, and discuss, The Hypnotist
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.
Having spent a lot of time in a more contemporary version of San Francisco’s Chinatown as a college student and bay area resident (though I don’t live there any longer), and one of the things I really appreciated about The Hypnotist was the way author Gordon Snider completely captured the fog and bustle, the overlapping conversations, and the architecture – the whole sense of the region really.
The other thing that really stood out for me was his protagonist Marta. Other reviewers (the nice thing about being at the end of a tour is that you get to see what other people thought) have pointed out that she is ahead of her time -a feminist, a woman with a strong sense of self and a strong sense of agency – and in other hands she would have felt like a contemporary character pulled out of time, but Snider has crafted his setting so well, that he keeps her progressive but still true to the period.
I also enjoyed the character of her friend Lillie (and have wondered if she was at all influenced by figures like Lillie Langtry and Molly Brown, because there were parts of her that reminded me a bit of both, especially the former), who was a breath of fresh air whenever we saw her.
The men – Byron, the Hypnotist – were less appealing to me. I found that I enjoyed the plot and the setting far more than most of the male characters. They weren’t badly written, or unsympathetic, really, I just didn’t connect with them.
On the other hand, I’d read a whole series about the adventures of Marta and Lillie solving mysteries (human trafficking or not) in period San Francisco.
Still, this was an enjoyable read, and provoked a lot of thought as I was reading it, and not a few dinner-table conversations about the setting, the plot, etc.
Gordon Snider, in The Hypnotist, has given us a novel that is much more complex and compelling than its description implies.
Goes well with steaming mugs of Lapsang Souchong and those crumbly almond cookies that sound better than they taste.
Monday, July 20th: The Reading Cove Book Club
Tuesday, July 21st: A Wondrous Bookshelf
Thursday, July 23rd: Dwell in Possibility
Tuesday, July 28th: It’s a Mad Mad World
Thursday, July 30th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, August 3rd: The Bibliophile Chronicles
Tuesday, August 4th: A Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 5th: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, August 6th: Books That Hook
Thursday, August 13th: Book Nerd
Thursday, August 13th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Friday, August 14th: Bibliotica
Monday, August 17th: A Reader’s Oasis
Friday, August 21st: Kahakai Kitchen
TBD: Lauren Hearts Books