The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief (The Curious Affair Of #1)

somnam2The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief is the start of a promising new detective series with a difference set in the Victorian era.  I enjoyed this, it was an entertaining read and I will definitely read more even though I had some reservations.

At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of Miss Lane who appears to all intents and purposes to be fleeing on a late night train out of Scotland.  It seems that Miss Lane has for the past few years worked with a close friend called Gabrielle Fox – known more commonly as Miss X by people in the psychic field.  It seems that Miss Lane has discovered her friend to be a fraud and rather than confront her she packs her scant belongings and heads for London.  She’s as poor as a church mouse with only a few coins to her name and with no friends on which to impose she finds herself in desperate need of employment.

Quite by chance Miss Lane spots an advertisement for an assistant detective and thinking her skills will fit the bill applies within and in quick succession finds herself not only appointed to the post but also with a room and board included with the deal.  Pretty lucky, you might be thinking, however, Mr Jesperson, the detective who she will be assisting, is new to the game and with little experience under his belt jobs are thin on the ground.  In order to prevent themselves becoming destitute they take a job from their landlord, it seems his sister’s husband has taken to sleep walking at night and not content with shambling round the bedroom like a zombie takes himself further abroad.  From there things fairly quickly gather momentum.  The two are invited to a seance where they make the acquaintance of the latest new medium looking to establish a name for himself, they are paid a visit by none other than Miss X herself and on top of that quickly find themselves embroiled in a missing persons case.

I did enjoy this.  It has a lot going for it and I like the idea of a new detective series set in London during a period that is virtually the epitome of gothic with it’s dark alleys and swirling pea soup fog.  On top of this, as I said this is a detective series with a difference which is clearly going to come in the form of certain fantasy elements.

Before I go further I’m going to highlight a few of my niggles with the story.  Firstly, and this probably seems a small thing, but at the start of the story Miss Lane is virtually running away from Miss Fox and yet when the two of them meet later in the book this issue is never tackled or discussed, it really is the elephant in the room.  In fact the two of them meet and take up as though nothing has come between them at all.  I was puzzled by that I must admit but I realise it’s only a minor issue and perhaps it will be tackled later in the series.

I really like that ‘otherworldly’ elements are being brought into the story, they just fit the period so well and make for good reading, but I felt that something was lacking a little in the handling somehow.  I think this is probably because in this day and age we tend to be very sceptical of psychic events whereas in the Victorian era seances and the like were all the rage – until of course all the gimmicks and hidden wires were discovered.  Miss Lane is herself a sceptic and yet, when certain elements of the story literally take flight she was incredibly accepting of everything.  Again, there is explanation for the whys and wherefores of events (and sorry to be mysterious but I’m trying not to be spoilery) but I guess I wanted some shock, or disbelief or outright astonishment or simply fainting and conniptions.  It just felt like everything was accepted and things carried on.  Like going to bed at night and finding a dragon curled up on your bed and casually thinking ‘cool, dragons really do exist’ and then going to sleep like everything is normal in the world – actually I do kind of like that notion.

Then there is the friendship/relationship with Miss Lane and Mr Jesperson.  It feels like something is going to be developed further here – hopefully something that takes its own sweet time.  At the moment the two of them feel quite awkward together, which is understandable.  I think I wanted a little more from them in terms of their dialogue, just to make it more entertaining.

Finally, I think the actual detecting work was a little on the skimpy side.  I think I had a notion that this might be a bit of a send up or maybe even a homage to Sherlock himself and that maybe Jesperson, in particular, was going to turn into one of those people who can just tell that you’ve been for a long walk with your dog and eaten a scone for afternoon tea from just a brief introduction.  Okay, I recognise that’s simply personal expectations and I’m not holding that against the book but it did seem that a lot of the actual investigation work was based on little more than supposition, I hope for more detecting in the next book.

So, that probably all sounds terribly negative and so to counter my own niggles above I’m going to end on the things I enjoyed in order to leave a favourable impression because I did enjoy this.  I think it suffers a little from first book in series syndrome and over ambition in terms of what’s actually going on but, in spite of that, it was a very quick read, fast paced and entertaining, amusing in parts and also suitably spooky in others.  There are abductions and ghostly apparitions, stage performances and attempted murder.  The writing is smooth, the time period quite effortlessly evoked.  I like the characterisation so far and thought that there is plenty more yet to come both in terms of individual development and potentially a romantic slow burner and I thought some of the scenes were really quite gripping.  Overall a very good foundation for a series that I would be keen to read more of.  Holmes and Watson, allow me to introduce Jesperson and Lane and hopefully some more ‘curious affairs’.

I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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Friday Firsts: The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief (The Curious Affair Of #1) by Lisa Tuttle

FridayFirsts
Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.    This Friday I’m reading : The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief (The Curious Affair Of #1) by Lisa Tuttle

somnam2I admit that I did not plan my escape very well, but the fact is that I had not planned it at all.

It was the end of June, 1893, and I had been in Scotland for barely two weeks, a guest in a grand (if somewhat ominous, chilly, and underpopulated country house where I had intended to remain for at least another month, along with my friend Miss Gabrielle Fox.  Or, rather, my erstwhile friend.  The thought of Gabrielle, who must by now have discovered by defection, made my stomach plunge, and I felt ill with nerves and unhappiness as I sat, shut in alone in my sleeping compartment while the night express rocked and swayed and rattled through the border country.  I could ill afford the extra five shillings for a private compartment, but I had paid, because that is what a lady must do.  Even though I did not expect to be able to sleep, I lacked the energy to remain as alert and vigilant as one must be in a third-class carriage against importunate strangers.

Gabrielle Fox, known to readers who follow the reports published by the Society for Psychical Research as ‘Miss X,’ had been my closest companion for nearly four years.  although she had originally been my employer, by the time economic difficulties forced an end to that arrangement, a sympathetic understanding had developed, and our relationship became a partnership in which we shared work and its rewards equally.  When she was hired by the SPR to conduct investigations into various types of supernatural phenomena or to test the claims made by mediums and spiritualists of all kinds, I went as her assistant and wrote up our findings for publication.

Then Miss Fox was put in charge of an official SPR investigation into a haunted house in Perthshire.  Instead of being part of a larger team, she had absolute authority to decide how to conduct the affair, when or if to bring in experts (and of what sort), and told expense was no obstacle.  The house was turned over to us – the owner had gone abroad, leaving a small staff to manage the upkeep at our direction, a coach and horses also at our disposal.

 

My First Impressions

It all sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?  And, yes, a huge ‘but’ is obviously looming – otherwise why would our protagonist be scarpering off on a train in the middle of the night, running away from something by the sounds of it.  I like the style of writing, insofar as I can make a judgement from such a small snippet and I’m very keen to read on.

What you reading this Friday??  What are your first impressions??

*The above excerpt was taken from an advanced reader copy and it is possible that the final version may have further changes.