Jan 9 2017 10:00am

The Clairvoyants: New Excerpt

Karen Brown

The Clairvoyants is Karen Brown’s most hypnotic novel to date—gothic-inflected psychological suspense that unmasks the secret desires of a young woman with a mystical gift (available February 7, 2017).

Read this exclusive excerpt from The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the novel!

On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who’s disappeared―until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha’s apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair coated with ice.


She is young—dark hair, blue eyes, lashes long and dark, spangled with frost. Her skin the only brightness in the small, dim space. She lies on a narrow bed. Above it are shelves of aluminum pots and pans—their finish worn away from years of use. Dollar Store pots. The kind we played with in the sandbox at the awful nursery school when we were small. Some of them dented. Alongside those, a box of matches, and a lantern smelling of kerosene, a tin of deviled ham, a rusted can of green beans, a moth-eaten bag of clothespins. Amber-colored light seeps through a curtained window into a galley-like space—a small counter, a stove, a tiny booth like a restaurant, and a rod hung across one end that holds tattered clothing slipping from metal hangers. Beyond the curtains, a snow-covered vista, the sun very low behind shaggy pines. Ferns of ice etch the inside of the window. The girl must be very cold without any clothes. Her limbs lie fixed—one arm across her breasts, the other thrown out like an actress about to take a bow. Somewhere, girls her age awaken in giddy expectation of Valentine’s Day roses and heart pendants and dinners out with their boyfriends at places with white tablecloths. She stares at a point beyond the ceiling. Come here, she says.


I was named after my great-aunt, a nun I first saw in my grandfather’s barn on my seventh birthday. The barn was in Connecticut, where I’d grown up, and Auntie Sister sat in her black habit on a bale of hay in a shaft of sunlight. Pieces of her dark hair snuck out of her wimple. I knew her from the photograph my grandmother kept in her living room—Sister’s pretty face framed by her coif, her head tilted to one side, her eyes laughing. My grandmother had two older sisters, Martha Mary, destined for the convent, and Rose, who would languish in the old Fairfield State Hospital in Newtown.

For my birthday, I’d spent the night with my grandparents, their house placed at the edge of my grandfather’s thirty acres—land bordered by the Mile Creek Club golf course, Long Island Sound, and the woods where the Spiritualists by the Sea had their camp—a handful of seasonal cottages and a temple. That evening, as I sat with my grandparents on the back terrace, my grandfather had cocked his head at the drifting notes of their organ.

“That’s the sound you hear on the astral plane,” he’d said.

The smoke from my grandfather’s cigarette rose over the privet hedges and swirled off toward the water. “I hear it,” I’d said, though the sound had faded. My grandmother pushed back her chair, the metal feet scraping against the slate. She took me by the hand and told me it was time for bed.

My overnight visit was a rare treat away from my three sisters. I didn’t know why I’d been singled out this way—none of my sisters ever were. Unaccustomed to the quiet—the absence of arguing, of Leanne’s music, and of Sarah banging through drawers, slamming her closet doors, complaining about not having anything to wear—I’d spent a fitful night on the high guest bed, which had a horse-hair mattress, an acorn bedpost, a history of bodies stretched out in sleep, or sex, or death. And in the morning I awoke before my grandparents. The house was cold, and the light at the bedroom window was like rose-tinged water. I did what I often did at home when I awoke before anyone else—I crept into rooms in the house and rummaged through drawers and cabinets—and I discovered in the bottom drawer of my grandmother’s breakfront a child’s white, leather-covered missal. It had gilt-edged pages, a silk ribbon bookmark, and colored illustrations—Jesus in all of them, a golden half-moon floating over his head. On the flyleaf Sister had penciled our name in cursive. I’d slipped the missal into my little overnight suitcase. I didn’t think to ask my grandmother if I could have it. Once I’d asked for a ruby brooch I’d found in her jewelry box, and she’d told me no.

I’d never gone into the barn by myself before, but that morning my grandparents sent me off to play and, not used to playing alone, I had wandered along the pebbled drive, missing my little sister, Del. We were only a year apart and did everything together. Del was my mother’s favorite—blond and pretty—and perceptive enough to try to include me when she saw she was getting more attention. If my mother noted how many flowers Del had picked, Del would pipe up: “But Martha chose the prettier ones!” Sometimes I was grateful for her allegiance; other times I resented it and found her disingenuous. Still, my mother thought Del was smarter, and it served me to let her think it.

That dull morning I walked the hedges’ perimeter, hoping to hear the Spiritualists’ organ so that I might report back to my grandfather. I’d gathered a handful of the white pebbles from the drive, and I was dropping them in the grass, leaving a trail Del would have pretended to follow, falling into the game. “Oh, look at this path of pebbles? Where will it lead?”

But Del was at home, coloring in our book, taking the pages I’d saved for myself. We lived at that time in a ranch house our father had bought for our mother, in a new suburb ten miles away, one we would vacate a year later when they divorced and our mother moved us into our grandparents’ house for good. I reached the barn and passed through the wide, open doorway. The eaves ascended high above me, and barn swallows darted in and out of the shadow and sunlight, sounding their little cheeps and churees of alarm. Somewhere inside the vast barn were the animals my grandfather kept—sheep, goats, a cow, and a horse. I sensed their shuffling and smelled the feed and the dense, almost cloying scent of manure. I saw Sister, and I waited nearby for her to notice me. I thought she might be praying.

The interior of the barn was cool and peaceful, as I knew all churches to be. My mother took us regularly to Mass at the old Sacred Heart, where the pews smelled of polished pine, and the statuary of Joseph and Mary gazed smooth-faced and pitying. We dipped the tips of our fingers in holy water. The priest came swinging the censer. The little bells ushered in a deep, encompassing silence.

In the barn, I held my breath, waiting.

Sister’s bale of hay topped a small stack near my grandfather’s workbench, his mill, the coiled copper wire, and the copper lightning rods stacked in worn, oily boxes. The chill of the damp stone floor rose through the soles of my sneakers. At no time did Sister speak to me or offer any message about what was to come. I wish to this day that she had. She kept her head bowed, her eyes on her hands folded in her lap. Had she discovered my theft? Was she there to confront me and demand the missal back? Her veil fluttered, and she raised her head. Fearing her accusation, I fled outside, down the white pebbled drive to where my grandparents sat in woven wire patio chairs. Behind them the house’s long porch trim was lacey cutouts, and to their left, beyond the privet hedge, the inground pool shimmered in the morning sunlight. I slid my hand into my grandmother’s, and she held it in her lap’s gabardine folds and patted it while they talked and had their coffee, the spiral of the steam shrouding their faces as they raised their cups.

Later, my family arrived—Leanne and Sarah, Del and my parents. Leanne and Sarah were jealous that I’d spent the night, and they refused to speak to me. Del put her hand in mine; she’d missed me, as I’d missed her. There was a cake and the seven candles I wished on and blew out. I waited in apprehension for Sister to emerge from the barn and join us, but she did not. I would eventually learn that in 1962, driving back to the convent upstate with three other sisters after a convention of the American Benedictine Academy, Sister had been in an accident. A blowing veil, perhaps, had obscured the driver’s vision, and they’d all died on the New York State Thruway, many years before I saw her sitting in the sunlight in my grandfather’s barn. This explained her smooth, youthful face when my grandmother’s was creped and sagging, the outdated serge habit. It did not explain how I saw her, but I never questioned what most people might. A door had opened and I had left it open and maybe because of that, things happened the way they did. That was all I knew, and as a child all I cared to know.

Copyright © 2017 Karen Brown.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

The Clairvoyants Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 9, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 9:59 a.m. ET January 16, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Karen Brown’s Little Sinners and Other Stories was named a Best Book of 2012 by Publisher’s Weekly; her previous collection, Pins and Needles received AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction; and her first novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls, was published in 2013 by Washington Square Press to rave reviews. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, and Good Housekeeping. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. maryc
Enjoyed the excerpt. Eager to read what Martha Mary does after the ghost of the missing woman appears.
John Smith
2. jsmith2jsmith
This sounds like a spooky book! Thank you for the contest!
Barbara Lima
6. barblima
Did her grandparents know she was clarivoyant?
10. jpl123456
Perfect for a good read on a cold Winter night.
10. jpl123456
Perfect for a good read on a cold Winter night.
Tammy Z Evans
11. tzevans
Wow, this book really sounds like my kind of read! Can't wait to read it.
12. Shannon Baas
I would like this.
14. Michelle Garrity
would love to read!
Michael Carter
16. rubydog
Please count me in for this sweepstakes.
18. Wendy Rinebold
Sounds like a great book!
19. Michelle Berka
Looks like a great book. Thank you
Ruth Bousquet
20. ruthing73
Love it, love ghosts! Thans for the opportunity to read it.
21. Nancy Wrenn
I will most definitely have to read this book. OMG! Loved the excerpt.
22. Georgia
I'm hooked already.
Joanne Mielczarski
27. jtmswim
I'm always looking for good books to read, and this one sounds perfect.
Pernette Wells
28. kaitlynspet
This book looks very interesting and I would love to win a copy so I can read it. Thanks.
Jim Belcher
29. librarypops
I feel for the father with all those girls. :)
Sally Schmidt
34. bigcootie
Sounds very intersting. Thanks for the giveaway.
Martha Wheeler
36. m1wheecli
This sounds like my kind of book, looking forward to reading it.
Janice Santillo
38. themommazie
Wow! great exerpt. Would love to read this one.
39. Josh N
I LOVE a good psycho thriller!
Jean Dickinson
42. justjean
"Clairvoyants" could be a good introduction to psychological suspense thrillers. Karen Brown's previous novel also looks interesting.
Sharon Haas
43. kazul
This book sounds very intriguing. I'd love a chance to own a copy, thank you!
47. Liz L
Can't wait to read
Linda Simons
49. Solver
I am excited to read this book. The exerpt drew me right into the story.
Mary Ann Woods
54. puttputt1198eve
Sounds exactly like the creepy kind of mystery that I like!
Sandra Furlotte
55. skfurlotte
I would love to win this book to help beat the winter blues.
Pat Murphy
56. murphyp2011
Need to expand my reading base. Count me in.
T Alexander
58. Talex
I do enjoy reading paranormal stories, I'd love to read this one.
susan beamon
59. susanbeamon
This book sounds very good. I'd like to have it.
62. Helen Martin
Loved the excerpt! Sounds like a great read.
Lori Provenzano
64. Mountainesque
This barn excerpt expecially paints a very vivid, er unnerving, picture.
65. Alexandra Ante Marandi
Can't wait to read!
Sue Dittmar
68. SKDittmar
I was entranced by the descriptions and language used. I am looking forward to reading the novel.
Margaret Eveleigh
69. torontoviewer
I'm intrigued. Am off to see if the local library is going to carry it.
70. Beverly Laude
Awesome excerpt!
71. Tracey Henderson
After reading this, I would loan it to my niece...this is right up her alley...
Vicki Andrew
72. vandrew
thanks for the chance, looks like a good read
Cheryl Greenleaf
73. cgreenleaf
Sounds like a good one. Thanks for offering this sweepstakes.
Deb Philippon
75. DebP
I really got into the excerpt, and would like to read more. Wish me luck!
Jeana Keller
76. StuffSmart
Thanks for the chance to win. The imagery in the excerpt pulled me in.
Linda Bogash
78. cgable5
Always enjoy reading. Sounds like it could be a winner!
Timothy Anderson
79. lycoan
Okay, I want more. Looking forward to reading. Thank you for the chance.
80. DonnaCarol Loftis
I have as yet not read a Karen Brown novel . That is soon to change after reading the excerpt for The Clairvoyant. Looking forward to adding Karen Brown to my book list.
vicki wurgler
81. bison61
ghosts, unstable sister and romance-book sounds great
Jane Schwarz
82. Janeschwarz
OK, This excerpt has pulled me in. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.
johnna smith
Great review! I definitely want to read this title. Thank you for the chance to win a copy
Rhonda Stefani
84. RStefani72
This sounds fantastic! I long for the well-done Gothic supernatural novels that are quite hard to find any more, really great ones! I'd so love a copy of The Clairvoyants! Just from the excerpt- marvelous!
Johannah Brookwell
86. Johannah
I am ready to read this! Send one my way!
87. Stephanie Liske
I'd like to win
Melissa Keith
88. melly801
Wait...I see....I see...I'm going to win this book! Now, about your love life.....
90. LStirling
Really enjoyed this excerpt. How does a young girl learn to live with an ability to see the dead? Very interesting!
91. Linda A
How can you read that first paragraph and not want to devour the remainder of the book? Win or not, this will definitely be on my reading list.
Linda Peters
92. linnett
Would love to read this, somes amazing, thanks
Linda Peters
92. linnett
Would love to read this, somes amazing, thanks
Jean Graham
93. Jeano
There are some intriguing plot threads here. I'd be interested to see how they all weave together.
Connie Rowe
94. reading4me
I'm intrigued, need to find out the ending. Count me in to win, but now on my to read list.
Karen Minter
96. Muscoe22
I would love to read the entire book - sounds fascinating!
connie black
102. epblack
This looks like an awesome read. My kid of genre.
connie black
102. epblack
This looks like an awesome read. My kid of genre.
Jerry Marquardt
103. versatileer
I would like to thank you for holding this The Clairvoyants: New Excerpt Sweepstakes. I cannot wait to read this great book.
113. jpl123456
Just perfect. I need a good book for Winter reading.
113. jpl123456
Just perfect. I need a good book for Winter reading.
Post a comment