The Clairvoyants: New Excerpt

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.


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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.


  1. MaryC

    Enjoyed the excerpt. Eager to read what Martha Mary does after the ghost of the missing woman appears.

  2. John Smith

    This sounds like a spooky book! Thank you for the contest!

  3. Lori Walker


  4. Sab Edwards

    THANKS, looks like something I’d read

  5. Belinda Shaw

    sounds interesting

  6. Barbara Lima

    Did her grandparents know she was clarivoyant?

  7. Sandra Slack

    I want to read this book!


    I’m intrigued!

  9. Daniel Morrell

    always like ghost stories


    Perfect for a good read on a cold Winter night.


    Perfect for a good read on a cold Winter night.

  12. Tammy Z Evans

    Wow, this book really sounds like my kind of read! Can’t wait to read it.

  13. Shannon Baas

    I would like this.

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    Thanks count me in

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    would love to read!

  16. Patricia Hill

    This sounds so interesting

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    Please count me in for this sweepstakes.

  18. Vernon Luckert

    Looks like an interesting read.

  19. Wendy Rinebold

    Sounds like a great book!

  20. Michelle Berka

    Looks like a great book. Thank you

  21. Ruth Bousquet

    Love it, love ghosts! Thans for the opportunity to read it.

  22. Nancy Wrenn

    I will most definitely have to read this book. OMG! Loved the excerpt.

  23. Georgia

    I’m hooked already.

  24. Susanne Troop

    Sounds like a great read!

  25. Susanne Troop

    Sounds like a great read!

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  27. Sherlyn Fischer

    Looks wonderful!

  28. Suzanne McMannis

    Excerpt spirits you into the story

  29. Joanne Mielczarski

    I’m always looking for good books to read, and this one sounds perfect.

  30. Pernette Wells

    This book looks very interesting and I would love to win a copy so I can read it. Thanks.

  31. Jim Belcher

    I feel for the father with all those girls. 🙂

  32. Saundra K. Warren

    This sounds like a really good book!

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    I would love to read the book.

  34. Cheryl Beck

    I would love the read the book.

  35. Carolyn

    Looks like a great read!

  36. Sally Schmidt

    Sounds very intersting. Thanks for the giveaway.

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    Captivating and enthralling.

  38. Martha Wheeler

    This sounds like my kind of book, looking forward to reading it.

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    Intriguing and unique.

  40. Janice

    Wow! great exerpt. Would love to read this one.

  41. Josh N

    I LOVE a good psycho thriller!

  42. Mary Lauff-Thompson

    Sounds Gothic!

  43. carole pozmanter

    Ghosts are real!!! I need to read more now!

  44. Jean Dickinson

    “Clairvoyants” could be a good introduction to psychological suspense thrillers. Karen Brown’s previous novel also looks interesting.

  45. Sharon Haas

    This book sounds very intriguing. I’d love a chance to own a copy, thank you!

  46. Peter W. Horton Jr.


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  48. Kim Johnston


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    Can’t wait to read

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    want to win

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    Looks like a good read.

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    want to win

  56. Mary Ann Woods

    Sounds exactly like the creepy kind of mystery that I like!

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    I would love to win this book to help beat the winter blues.

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    I’d sure like to read the rest of this.

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    I do enjoy reading paranormal stories, I’d love to read this one.

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    how interesting

  63. Terrie

    Sounds like a great read!

  64. Helen Martin

    Loved the excerpt! Sounds like a great read.

  65. Chuck Aeschbacher Jr

    sounds good.

  66. Lori P

    This barn excerpt expecially paints a very vivid, er unnerving, picture.

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    Can’t wait to read!

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    Sounds crazy, tripy neat and cool.

  69. Marylynn Hayes

    Sounds great, thanks for the chance!

  70. Sue Dittmar

    I was entranced by the descriptions and language used. I am looking forward to reading the novel.

  71. Margaret

    I’m intrigued. Am off to see if the local library is going to carry it.

  72. Beverly Laude

    Awesome excerpt!

  73. Tracey Henderson

    After reading this, I would loan it to my niece…this is right up her alley…

  74. Vicki Andrew

    thanks for the chance, looks like a good read

  75. Cheryl Greenleaf

    Sounds like a good one. Thanks for offering this sweepstakes.

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  77. Deb Philippon

    I really got into the excerpt, and would like to read more. Wish me luck!

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    Thanks for the chance to win. The imagery in the excerpt pulled me in.

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    I’d love to check this out 🙂

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    Always enjoy reading. Sounds like it could be a winner!

  81. Timothy Anderson

    Okay, I want more. Looking forward to reading. Thank you for the chance.

  82. 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.

  83. vicki wurgler

    ghosts, unstable sister and romance-book sounds great

  84. Jane Schwarz

    OK, This excerpt has pulled me in. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.

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    Great review! I definitely want to read this title. Thank you for the chance to win a copy

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    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!

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  92. L

    Really enjoyed this excerpt. How does a young girl learn to live with an ability to see the dead? Very interesting!

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    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.

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  104. Penny Snyder

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    I would like to thank you for holding this The Clairvoyants: New Excerpt Sweepstakes. I cannot wait to read this great book.

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    Just perfect. I need a good book for Winter reading.


    Just perfect. I need a good book for Winter reading.

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  122. Kim Johnston

    A good read for wet days!

  123. Mark Bailey

    Sounds like a great book to read.

Comments are closed.