Things in Jars
by Jess Kidd
In the dark underbelly of Victorian London, a formidable female sleuth is pulled into the macabre world of fanatical anatomists and crooked surgeons while investigating the kidnapping of an extraordinary child in this gothic mystery—perfect for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Book of Speculation.
Bridie Devine—female detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.
Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.
Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.
I received an eARC of Things in Jars from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wow, this book was a chore to get through.
Things in Jars has everything in it that I should like. Historical fiction? Tick. Historical fiction with a mystery/crime twist? Tick. Historical fiction with a splash of fantasy/magical realism? Tick. A female detective? TICK. And yet reading this book felt like wading through syrup, and I’ve still got a bit of a headache from it.
Set in the 19th century, Things in Jars follows detective Bridie Devine as she’s hired to track down a stolen child, Christabel, who, rumour has it, isn’t exactly human. I was sold on that premise, and I’d heard that Jess Kidd is someone who writes the weird and wacky well, so I was delighted when I was approved for an eARC.
The one thing I can’t fault this novel for is Kidd’s writing. She can write the bizarre extremely well and, for the most part, I really enjoyed her writing – that’s why this novel got 2 stars instead of 1 – but the plot felt all over the place.
My major issue with this novel is that Kidd couldn’t seem to decide what the story was. I thought we were tracking down Christabel, and to an extent we are, but we learn who’s taken her fairly early on which means we’re waiting for Bridie to catch up and reveal to us how all of the people in this case are inevitably linked to her own childhood.
I think that’s the main problem with Things in Jars for me. This book should have been about Christabel, but instead it’s about Bridie. Bridie isn’t unlikeable by any means, but I was so bored of flitting back and forth, from Bridie’s formative years to the present and to Christabel’s kidnappers and then back to Bridie, that by the time the ‘big reveal’ came about how everything was connected, I’d mostly forgotten who a lot of the side characters were.
There was too much going on in this novel, and in Kidd’s defence it probably wouldn’t have felt that way as much if I hadn’t seen this marketed as a historical crime novel which is what I was looking for when I picked this up.
I did enjoy Kidd’s writing a lot, and I liked how she wrote people, but I spent the last two thirds of this novel begging for it to be over soon because it took me so long to get through. Personally, a crime novel isn’t the kind of story I want to sit with for very long. Crime novels are the kind of novels I want to inhale because I’m desperate to know whodunnit, but Things in Jars didn’t have any of that urgency for me.
It’s beautifully written, but, sadly, the writing and all the extra kooky characters got in the way of the story.