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Book review: Behind the Veil by E. J. Dawson

Official blurb

Behind the Veil is a gothic noir set in 1920s Los Angeles during the rise of occultism.

It is a story about overcoming cowardice to find true strength and love. Bruised and battered souls who’ve had their hardships are forced together to face a foe who’s far worse than an ordinary ghost…

Can she keep the secrets of her past to rescue a girl tormented by a ghost?

In 1920s Los Angeles, Letitia Hawking reads the veil between life and death. A scrying bowl allows her to experience the final moments of the deceased. She brings closure to grief-stricken war widows and mourning families.

For Letitia, it is a penance. She knows no such peace.

For Alasdair Driscoll, it may be the only way to save his niece, Finola, from her growing night terrors. But when Letitia sees a shadowy figure attached to the household, it rouses old fears of her unspeakable past in England.

When a man comes to her about his missing daughter, the third girl to go missing in as many months, Letitia can’t help him when she can’t see who’s taken them.

As a darkness haunts Letitia’s vision, she may not be given a choice in helping the determined Mr Driscoll or stop herself falling in love with him. But to do so risks a part of herself she locked away, and to release it may cost Letitia her sanity and her heart.

My thoughts

Letitia Hawking is a young English war widow living in Los Angeles and working as a Spiritualist to help people come to terms with the death of their loved ones. She has an abundance of talent, including reading personalities, which she sees in “the form of elemental conditions.”

Letitia stretched her senses. His temperament formed a hot wind, the heat of the desert, pervasive and endless. It made her skin itch.

She also has a startling ability to “see” the last living moments of the dead and to experience those moments as if she were there, inside their heads. Not an easy talent to possess, considering the deadly mystery that embroils her as young girls go missing without a trace.

A careful businesswoman, Letitia has learned the hard way to be protective of her mental health, personal space, and privacy. She sets her life around a finely tuned equilibrium of scars from a traumatic past, demands of her talents, and client expectations. The veil is used as a motif for spiritual transition after death and as a tool to create the space Letitia needs to maintain between herself and everyone else. To reach beyond is to venture in to dangerous territory.

You can control just one thing; your breath.

As a recent convert to yoga and the importance of breath in managing emotions (such as fear), I found this one instruction from an old woman to her “student” relatable, a sign of what might be to come, and a rather contemporary notion.

Breath-work may not be a modern technique in some cultures, but in Edwardian/post World War One England? However, there are a few modern themes woven into this story that, given the period and the rapid shifts in Western society during the early 19th century, aren’t too out of place. Together they give depth and added meaning to the story and characterisations.

Overall, the narrative is superb; intriguing and page-turning. Between mystery, self-reflection, spiritual consultations, and conflict between characters, pockets of interesting observations of the people around Letitia widen the scope of the story and its setting. Mrs Finch and her daughters who make soaps, oils, and cosmetics. Imogen, the seamstress with the thoroughly modern and theatrical lifestyle. Mr Chen, the herbalist, and the various people that move in and out of Letitia’s orbit (living and dead).

Dawson handles the last moments before death with sensitivity and without melodrama. They are compelling, sad, stories within the whole, threads in a larger tapestry.

Descriptions throughout Behind the Veil are beautiful, drawing the reader in to walk alongside Letitia on her journey as she faces her fears, and her past, and searches for bravery. The juxtaposition of modern America with old traditions from Scotland (business and emotion, money and morality, the here and now with wraiths and spectral hauntings ) is a subtle thread throughout. The line between old and new is as thin as between the living and the dead.

Behind the Veil is more than a gothic mystery, more than a ghost story. It is a journey to find true courage in the face of insanity, injury, assault, and death. One woman’s bravery in opening herself to psychic assault, love, and friendship.

I first read this story before Christmas. With all that the end-of-year entails, I thought it a good idea to read it again and take review notes. That worked perfectly well until I was halfway through the novel and forgot about note-taking. I sat back and let myself fall into the clutches of Dawson’s storytelling.


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About the author: E.J. Dawson

Beginning a writing journey with an epic 21 book series, Ejay started her author career in 2014 and has taken on the ups and downs of self-publishing with her fantasy series The Last Prophecy since 2016.

At the start of 2019, she put the series on the backburner to write Behind the Veil in 25 days, and signed a publishing contract for the gothic noir novel to independent publisher Literary Wanderlust.

She resumed self-publishing a scifi series, Queen of Spades released across 2020 and 2021, as well as signing another contract with Literary Wanderlust for NA fantasy, Echo of the Evercry. Believing in more than one path to a career in publishing, Ejay pursues self-publishing alongside querying traditional publishers with multiple manuscripts.

Helpful info

Author: E.J. Dawson

Genre: Gothic noir with dark adult themes

Age range: 18+

I received a free copy of this novel with a request for an honest review.

This review will also appear on Amazon (Australia) and Goodreads.


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