Published by Canongate
Publication date – 4 April 2019
Source – review copy
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.
Bridie Devine is recovering from a failure. She couldn’t complete her last case as a private detective so grabs the opportunity to track down kidnapped Christabel Berwick. But as she looks deeper into the case it would appear that Christabel, and the people around her, are not as they seem.
Sometimes you come across a book and realise you don’t know where to start when it comes to writing a review. So you leave it a bit for the right words to appear. And then leave it a bit longer. But the memory of the book lingers. The feelings it created are still there, and the joy it gave you still felt.
Such is the case with Things in Jars.
The mystery unfolds, starting with Bridie called in to trace Christabel. As the story progresses the reader learns that Christabel is not as it would seem. Her father is keeping secrets that could impact Christabel’s life. Bridie has to deal with things that will push the boundaries of what is known, the magical and the mundane meeting together.
I could easily visualise the characters, casting them in the movie adaptation as I read. Bridie is a wonderful woman. Feisty, independent and resourceful in a time when women were expected to be none of these things. She has created her own persona, one which will broke no nonsense yet is at times vulnerable. Ruby, the ghostly boxer, was a fabulous sidekick, easily envisaged with his moving tattoos and tattered bandages. It was lovely to see the relationship between the two develop. Every character in the book was brought vividly alive, each one necessary to the story, from the most villainous of villains to the most supportive of mentors.
When thinking about this book, the word sumptuous springs to mind. The prose is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas; lyrical, almost poetic. I admit it was not what I was expecting before I started to read and it took me a few pages to adjust to the style. But soon I was caught up in the world of Bridie Devine. I could picture the locations, imagine the fog swamped London, the windmill home of Bridie’s beloved advisor and the opulent country manor house of Mr Berwick.
It is a marvellous thing, this Things in Jars. Part mystery, part steam punk, part romance, part adventure, it is all of this and more. It is a book you savour, get lost in and turn the last page with that mixture of contentedness and sadness that it’s over. There is something wonderful about stumbling across a book that is an unexpected joy. I’m envious of those who get to read it for the first time.
I fervently hope that Bridie will return in another novel. I need to visit her world again soon.