Friday, January 19, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Norfolk Shrieking Pit Mystery

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross (From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane) by Lisa Tuttle (Random House Hydra).

 In this second adventure of the intrepid Victorian private detectives Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. While the daring duo evoke shades of Holmes and Watson with a touch of the supernatural here and there, they are anything put pale imitations. 

While a mysterious murder sets them off on this latest adventure to Norfolk, the story is as much about the denizens coming to terms with an uneasy crossroads between the modern, scientific future and the folkloric, magical past. When a new client falls dead on their doorstep, a young man in apparent health whose heart has given out, the sleuths follow clues to Norfolk, where the victim’s close friend has established a society dedicated to reviving the “ancient religion” of Britain. 

A kidnapped baby, accusations of witchcraft, cunning men and wisewomen steeped in the lore of plants that can cure – or kill – and a tragic love affair lead Jesperson and Lane down a twisted path, past the “shrieking pits” and back to London, through greenhouses filled with exotic, poisonous plants, and to a clergyman’s parlor. Lively, witty, and often unexpected, these stories are a true delight. 

I especially like the deft way the author treads the line between fantasy and reality in a way that heightens the emotional stakes and vividness of the tale.

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