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Subtitled, ‘The Curious Case of Britain’s Last Witch Trial,’ this narrative nonfiction book documents the trial and conviction of Helen Duncan, a spirit medium otherwise known as Hellish Nell.


This book is broken into three parts reflective of the ways in which Helen Duncan was viewed and treated during her life: valorisation, vilification, and vindication. Duncan’s trial took place in 1944, with her performance of seances being the primary reason that her case was brought to court. Gaskill uses the case of ‘Hellish Nell’ as a framework for exploring Spiritualism in the 20th century alongside a past of witch trials and paranoia surrounding the occult. The three themes that this book are broken into include chapters that explore the the psychological and social landscape of Spiritualism and occult belief in Britain and other parts of the world world during this time period, connecting the story of Helen Duncan to that of many others who were similarly brought under scrutiny.


Milton Keynes: Penguin, 2023. Paperback, 463 pages. New.

Hellish Nell - Malcolm Gaskill