*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.
As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fanatical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showmen. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment. The public love a spectacle and Christabel may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen.
Things in Jars is an enchanting Victorian detective novel that explores what it is to be human in inhumane times.
I have had Jess Kidd recommended to me previously by fellow fans of magic realism, and this is the first of her books that I have read. I will be reading ALL of them!
Things in Jars is a perfect blend of Victorian mystery, Sherlock Holmes style, but with the indomitable and inimitable Bridie Devine, who may well be my new favourite fictional character of all time. Although Ruby, Cora and Valentine came in close behind – I would be hard-pressed to name a more endearing band of side characters.
In sharp contrast to the humour and spirit of our hero/es, the evil here is chilling and yet surprising. Kidd leaves little doubt of the supernatural element to her story, even as Bridie voices her scepticism on such matters (to a ghost!), but the monsters aren’t always as obvious as you might think.
I love fairytales and mythological creatures but was unfamiliar with the specifics of Kidd’s creation and so took to some research of my own on completing the book. I was in awe on discovering that the available mythology is thin on details and ‘heart’, and that everything that I found so authoritative, compelling, and believable in the narrative comes direct from the author’s imagination.
This is excellent storyweaving and an ideal blend (for me) of mystery, fantasy and humour, with some serious undertones on how we treat people who are ‘different’. I wholeheartedly recommend Things in Jars and look forward to catching up with Jess Kidd’s back catalogue as soon as possible.
Bridie draws nearer. A leviathan closes in on a fishing boat, its great head cresting the waves. In the next painting the brute closes its maw around the boat’s splintering hull. A fisherman clings to a piece of driftwood, his face a mask of terror. One painting in particular catches Bridie’s eye. A travesty of a mermaid looms in a rock pool with a looking-glass, a receding hairline and a pike’s grin. Below the surface of the water a barbed tail curls.
‘We call her Mrs Puck,’ whispers Agnes with a grin.
‘Your master seems to dwell on these horrors of the deep?’
‘He has a whole library of books about the things that swim in the water and the things that crawl out of it, ma’am.’ Agnes wrinkles her nose. ‘There are things in jars.’
– Jess Kidd, Things in Jars
Things in Jars is available on Amazon now, and from all good bookshops.