A strange puzzle has reached Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age. To recover a stolen child, Bridie must enter the dark world of medical curiosities. The public love a spectacle and this child may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen. - BACK COVER BLURB
As pale as a grave grub, she's an eyeful. - FIRST SENTENCE, Prologue
Earlier, Mrs Bibby, demonic from the pain in her leg and the effort of feeding the child (wedged as the big woman was in the vestry cupboard), had snatched the headless newt the child was playing with. Shehad thrown it away, and called Christabel a godless little heathen.
Christabel screamed. It was a scream loud enough to shatter the church windows and loosen the roof tiles and crumble the font and melt the candles on the altar. - MEMORABLE MOMENT, Page 104
MY THOUGHTS ... With folklore/mythology from many different cultures, ghosts, collectors who seek out living anomalies in order to preserve them in jars, wonderfully atmospheric and gloriously Gothic, BIG characters ... for those who know me, need I say more?
Its no big secrets, characters are my thing. And in particular I like strong, quirky, feisty female characters and believe me when I say there are no end of wonderful woman characters within the pages of Things In Jars.
Of course there's the heroine of the tale (a character I can imagine Helena Bonham Carter ,an actress well known for her roles as larger than life characters, playing if ever the book was to be made into a film) the pipe smoking, male clothing wearing, moustache donning (the latter two only when necessary of course) Bridget “Bridie” Devine who has to be one of my favourite characters of all times.
And then there's Bridie's fiercely loyal, seven foot bearded parlour maid, Cora and Christabel; the six year old daughter of a baronet at the centre of the story who, it having soon becomes apparent is not your typical child, has come to the attention of the unscrupulous traders ... their business? Collecting and trading curiosities of which Christabel is one.
Its a wonder that any of the male characters get a look in and yet I loved Bridie's 'love interest' (or at least one of them, the other is the 'more of this world' Valentine Rose of Scotland Yard. That Ruby Doyle is a boxer may not raise any eyebrows; that he is an amorous ghost, a melancholic one at that, who approaches Bridie despite her declaring (and I quote) 'I'm not in the market for a haunting' just might. That he appears to know her despite her having no recollection of him ... well, that's just one of the mysteries to be uncovered.
And there's more ...
Fanatical anatomists and crooked surgeons; honestly, to say that things In Jars is populated by a gloriously memorable cast of characters is an understatement but then ...
Set in the dark underbelly of Victorian London, where poverty, disease and corruption are rife and surgery is in its infancy (be warned there are some graphic accounts of by-gone surgical procedures) the world building is every bit as good in a story that sees Bridie unable to rest until she discovers the whereabouts of Christabel ... even if that means her re-visiting a past she'd rather not.
With two distinct time arcs; the main one of which is a deliciously, ahem, 'fishy' mystery (for those of you who aren't clued up on merrows be prepared to learn) set in the present, the other of which takes us back to Bridie's childhood which as you can imagine is, well, different. The two taken together, what can I say?
A marvellously macabre, gloriously Gothic tale written with a wicked sense of wit; unique and utterly beguiling. Please, please tell me that this isn't the last we'll see of Bridie and co.
Often mentioned in the same breath as The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Each to their own, for me personally though there is no comparison, Things In Jars is by far the superior read.
SUMMED UP IN A SENTENCE ... A Gothic setting, a compelling crime, folklore, the macabre, autopsies combine in a novel with larger than life characters ... its hardly any wonder this is way up there as one of my favourite reads of 2020.
My thanks to Pat for gifting me this book.