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 wanted to like Things in Jars. “Set in Victorian London, female detective Bridie Devine must find a young girl who has been kidnapped. The young girl in question Christabel, however, is no ordinary child, she’s not supposed to exist”. This was the blurb from the book.
Now I love Sherlock Holmes stories; a brilliant detective cleverly working through the clues, scouring the depths of Victorian London. So, I was intrigued by this offering and duly bought the book. However not all detective stories are alike; we know who took Christabel (well sort of) and we know the girl is different. We also know they’re trying to get her to London. So, this is less of a whodunnit and more of Bridie’s scouring known haunts once she realises that the girl is unusual.
Bridie is a master detective who has a penchant for reading corpses and smoking pipes full of Prudhoes Bronchial Balsam Blend. She’s not sure what it contains and whether it’s affecting her senses. Indeed after smoking the substance, she meets the ghost of Ruby Doyle, a former champion boxer who claims to know ‘Bridgit’ (although she can’t remember ever meeting him). Ruby is to become her companion throughout the remainder of the book. Later, we are introduced to the legend of merrows (mermaids from Irish folklore), we visit a circus freakshow and headless corpses also make an appearance.
So, Things in Jars is a little different; it’s quirky and written for the most part in the present tense. We do however jump back often to Bridie’s past and see the layers of her story slowly unravel. This is where the book becomes interesting as we see the sub-plot of how Bridie’s present world was shaped.
It felt as though some of the more unusual aspects of the book were there to make the main storyline more interesting and keep us away from the sub-plot. Although to be fair I think that Ruby’s character could have been taken further. He would have made an excellent assistant; being an extra pair of eyes and ears that could walk through walls rather than wandering around aimlessly.
So overall, did I like Things in Jars?
Well… Yes and no. I couldn’t relate to Bridie’s character although there are obvious similarities with Holmes’ even down to the pipe-smoking. So, when she got into difficulties, I didn’t worry about her. I also thought that the true villain of the story could and should have been taken a lot further. But be fair Jess Kidd does cleverly bring both plots together at the end.