15 June 2016

The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

Image from www.jofletcherbooks.com 

The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief
Lisa Tuttle
Jo Fletcher Books, 16 June 2016
PB, 416pp, e-book
Source: Advance copy via Netgalley

Should you find yourself in need of a discreet investigation into any sort of mystery, crime or puzzling circumstances, think of Jesperson and Lane...
For several years Miss Lane was companion, amanuensis, collaborator and friend to the lady known to the Psychical Society only as Miss X - until she discovered that Miss X was actually a fraud.
Now she works with Mr Jasper Jesperson as a consulting detective, but the cases are not as plentiful as they might be and money is getting tight - until a case that reaches across the entirety of London lands in their laps.
It concerns a somnambulist, the disappearance of several mediums, and a cat stuck up a tree . . . the links with the cat are negligible, but there is only one team that can investigate the seemingly supernatural disappearances of the psychics and defy the nefarious purpose behind them.
Jesperson and Lane, at your service.
I've read a number of Sherlock-Holmes influenced Victorian romps lately and at first I thought that's all this might be. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that while Holmes and Watson were duly acknowledged (as popular fiction of the time) and there are some superficial similarities - the address of Miss Lane and Mr Jesperson at 203A Gower Street, the mention by name of intriguing cases that are not described further - this isn't a new spin on Holmes and Watson.

To begin with, Miss Aphrodite Lane, employed as assistant to Mr Jasper Jesperson, is much more than a Watson. She's been working as a psychic investigator (until she begins to suspect her boss of fraud) and while she might not - at the start of the book - be practised in the arts of self-defence, she is fully up on the business of investigation.

Which is just as well. The two quickly become involved in the baffling mystery of a respectable gentleman who has begun sleepwalking and when the case widens out to include jewel thefts and vanishing mediums, Miss Lane's previous experience proves invaluable.

Then there's the outright psychic aspect. Tuttle plays with us here a little bit: the world of psychical research is clearly riddled with frauds - both those who pretend psychic abilities and those who pretend to ferret them out: the difference seems to be paper thin at times - but the world of this book might, just, be one where there is a grain of truth in these things. In which case, what are a pair of intrepid detectives to do? There was often a point when Holmes solved problems by force: it seems that might not work here...

It's all great fun, with a stubborn, intelligent heroine and a brave, dashing hero who don't fall into each others' arms at the first opportunity (hooray!)

Tuttle doesn't rush the plot and takes time to establish her characters, with Miss Lane introduced in flight from Scotland on the night train and only over several chapters setting set up in her post with Mr Jesperson. Then it's a little time before the actual case comes along, and a little longer before we're plunged into adventure. I think some readers may find things a little slow in the first third, but it's really not - there is quite a lot to establish: not only Lane and Jesperson but the whole background of Victorian mediumship, psychical research and the hinterland of mountebanks, hypnotists and the bored rich who avidly consumed all this stuff.

And once the story really gets going, it zips along, with peril, a real, melodramatic villain - you can almost here the moustache twirling and hear his laughter - a truly evil plot and a dramatic denouement.

The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief is a genuinely refreshing book, not so much steampunk as psychicpunk, introducing two strong and intriguing central characters who could - despite everything I said at the start - easily give Holmes and Watson a run for their money. And at the very end Tuttle drops us right into the next adventure, so I'm hopeful there will be more from Jesperson & Lane.

Find out more about The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief here.

No comments:

Post a Comment