Friday, October 6, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Delicious Victorian Mashup Mystery

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss, Saga Press is a delightful amalgam and homage to characters dear to lovers of Victorian-era literature, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bram Stoker. 

First of all – Theodora Goss. If you don’t know her breath-takingly wonderful short fiction, drop everything and read some. We’ll wait. Okay, ready to talk about her novel?

We begin with young, well-mannered, brilliant Mary Jekyll – yes, that Jekyll, her father – alone in his old house (except for the ever-faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Poole) and at the end of her financial rope. Chance and the hope of a small bequest brings her into contact with her hellfire and rapscallion adolescent half-sister, Diana Hyde. Before long, the two team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, hot on the trail of whoever is murdering young women in the alleys of London and surgically removing various body parts. The mystery brings them into contact with Catherine Moreau (that Moreau, a panther turned woman), Renfield, Justine Frankenstein (who is so gentle, she’s a vegetarian pacifist), and “poison lady” Beatrice Rappaccini, among others. 

The true delight of the novel, however, arises from the interruptions by the characters themselves, often arguing over who should tell which part of the story and how it should be told. At first, we do not know who all these women are, but as the tale unfolds, we see their own experiences and personalities reflected in their sometimes witty, sometimes impudent, but always affectionate squabbles.

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