By now we've all heard of hybrid cars, but ... a hybrid book? The Hidden Whisper, by J.J. Lumsden, is just such an animal. It's part novel, part nonfiction. Pages 1-241 tell a fictional mystery story about an apparent poltergeist haunting near Tucson, Arizona. Pages 243-325 present the technical background to the story -- nearly 70 pages of detailed endnotes plus a 15 page bibliography. The endnotes cover a diverse array of subjects, including dream studies, Zener cards, the autoganzfeld, meta-analysis, poltergeists, PK, EVP, precognition, cold reading, Kirlian "auras" (debunked), synaesthesia, NDEs, DMILS, remote healing, and OBEs.
The author is himself a parapsychologist. One Web site (in a very positive review of the book) describes him as "a UK-based parapsychologist, who did his postgraduate studies at the Edinburgh’s ... Koestler Parapsychology Unit."
The concept of combining fiction and nonfiction in this way isn't entirely new. Michael Crichton did something similar in State of Fear, which criticizes global warming alarmism.
Perhaps it's because I've become a bit jaded about fiction lately, but I found the nonfiction part of The Hidden Whisper more intriguing than the mystery tale. Lumsden does a first-rate job of summarizing the evidence for a variety of paranormal phenomena (though he doesn't say much about mediums or reincarnation), while also giving due acknowledgment to skeptical objections. There's a lot of good info here.
I had mixed feelings about the novel itself. Before continuing, I should say that I'm a very critical reader when it comes to popular fiction, which is one reason why I don't read too much of it anymore. So take my complaints with a grain of salt.
On the plus side, the basic plot is interesting and the denouement is both surprising and satisfying. The lead character, a British parapsychologist (naturally), is engagingly drawn. The paranormal information is woven pretty naturally into the storyline. There are some nice moments of humor, and a good sense of place.
The main negative, for me, was that the book dragged in many spots, with too many dialogue scenes and not enough actually happening. It lacks what literary agent/story analyst Donald Maass calls "line by line tension" -- the subtle, hard-to-achieve quality that compels the reader to keep turning pages late into the night. Indeed, I think the author would benefit from reading Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel, a book recommended to me by a writer friend. Though I've published 20 novels, including a few minor bestsellers, I still learned a lot from Maass's book. (Whether what I've learned will enable me to get published again is another story. The book industry is in seriously bad shape.)
A couple of other, more minor things bothered me about the fictional portion of The Hidden Whisper. The American characters often talk like Brits, using British syntax. Words are capitalized when they shouldn't be, quotation marks are sometimes missing, and there are other errors that a good copy-editor should have caught. I know this sounds nit-picky, and it is, but I notice stuff like that.
Some of these flaws are probably attributable to the fact that the book was published by a very small press. As small presses become more ubiquitous and the big publishing houses continue their inevitable decline, I expect to see more of this kind of thing.
Overall, I would recommend The Hidden Whisper as a good introduction to the field of parapsychology, but more for the lengthy nonfiction supplement than for the novel itself. However, taste in fiction is very subjective, and your mileage may vary. And in the age of such dubious fare as TV's Medium and Ghost Whisperer, it's certainly good to see an accurate and serious fictional presentation of an investigation into the paranormal.