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3 June 2021

#Review - Strange Tricks by Syd Moore

Design by Andy Allen

Strange Tricks (Essex Witch Museum Mysteries)
Syd Moore
Oneworld (Point Blank Crime), 3 June 2021
Available as: PB, 384pp, e, audio
Read as: Advance PB copy
ISBN(PB): 9781786075482

I'm grateful to Point Blank for an advance copy of Strange Tricks to consider for review. It was a real treat to receive it because I've developed a fondness for Rosie Strange (and for her creator, Syd Moore).

Rosie is the proprietor of the Essex Witch Museum, having inherited it form her uncle, Septimus. The Museum holds many mysteries, relating both to Essex (and its supernatural, and not-so-supernatural)  history, and to the Strange family itself - a rackety lineage with its own dark secrets.

While she'd like to focus on museum affairs - including those revolving around dreamy head curator (actually, the only curator), Sam, Rosie is frequently called away to investigate supernatural-tinged crime, often at the behest of Monty who works for MI-something-or -other.

Over four novels and several short stories, Moore has established an appealing setting in the Museum and, in Rosie and Sam, a couple whose will-they, won't-they adventures - a frequent question which is generally usurped by episodes of mortal peril -  keeps the reader guessing and anticipating. 

In Strange Tricks, Rosie faces a particularly dark investigation when she and Sam are asked to check out a medium. Sam (usually the Mulder to Rosie's Scully) is surprisingly hostile to Pearl, and it turns out that her information may be hitting a little close to home for him, making enquiries particularly fraught and driving a wedge between him and Rosie. But what they're learning suggests there may be a group of victims unknown to - or disregarded by - conventional law enforcement, and that lives may be in danger. Rosie and Sam have to cooperate to get to the bottom of this, which - even with the grim background - brought me as a reader unalloyed joy: they're never as much fun as when bickering. 

At the same time, Rosie is following up new discoveries about her dead mother, working her way through a journal which has come to light. There's a narrative about a mysterious stranger, something at odds with what Rosie previously believed but which seems to me to echo developments in Rosie's own life. Illustrated by specially drawn Tarot cards, these episodes from Celeste's 80s heyday sustain Rosie in difficult and dark moments - of which Strange Tricks has many.

The story comes to a genuinely spooky (and scary) climax, one that tests Rosie endurance to its limits. I wasn't surprised in the end at the strength she shows here - if you took her interior monologue at face value you might think her a bit superficial and likely to fold at the first broken nail, but readers of this series will already know that Rosie has hidden depths (perhaps even largely hidden from herself) and she finds extra (and unlikely) resources to draw on here. 

Strange Tricks also shows how Moore is able in these books to pivot from the comic to the creepy, all while highlighting truly relevant themes highlighting the plight of people who fall through the gaps in society (the always relevant original Essex "witches" themselves, the trafficked women featured in Strange Sight, or the victims here). It also points to wider developments in the story of Rosie's family - and a potential threat to her happy hopes of some attention from Sam. 

Moore is on excellent form with Strange Tricks, keeping this series humming along and clearly building to future developments on several fronts. I can't wait for more. 

Finally - look at that cover! I loved the previous covers, but this neon themed design, suggesting sleazy alleys and danger (and the importance of those Tarot cards) is I think really attractive and will certainly make the books stand out. 

For more information, see the publisher's website here.

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