Picture the Dead explores the aftermath of war through the eyes of Jennie Lovell, a teenaged Bostonian who has seen both her brother and the cousin to whom she was engaged, killed in the Civil War. Quinn, the twin cousin who returns, has never been her favorite in the family. However, he holds his own sinister appeal and may be her best chance at a life as more than a poor relation on her way to being one of the household servants. After a ghostly manifestation on a family visit to a spiritualist, Jennie tries to figure out her place in the family now that her fiancee has been killed. She also experiences strange incidents in the household that seem to be sending her a messages that she must decipher before it is too late.
This short novel is full of history and mystery with its myriad cartoon drawings of what were real pictures and letters from the time. I amused myself by turning the book sideways and back, trying to read every scrap of letter and searching for clues to the mystery transpiring. The most intriguing part of the book was not the gothic mystery but the hints and the overtones of real horrors that took place at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia, and the ways that might play into Quinn’s furtiveness and general odd behavior. The absence of Jennie’s fiancee, made it hard to feel or get a sense for the love that they shared, so I wasn’t fully invested in Jennie’s feelings of loss, but I did sympathize with the precarious position she was placed in after his death.
Picture the Dead is an entertaining illustrated novel. It can easily be enjoyed over the course of an afternoon. While Jennie’s love story fell a little flat and didn’t touch me deeply, I was intrigued by the exploration of the burgeoning spiritualist movement, the birth of photography, the effects of war on family and the narrow roles occupied by women at the time. While I’m not entirely sure that there were enough clues to solve the puzzle presented in the story, that certainly didn’t stop me from hunting through both pictures and narrative to try to figure it out.