The som­nam­bulist and the psy­chic thief

Gas lamps and ec­to­plasm

SFX - - Reviews - Fans of séances be­lieved spir­its man­i­fested via ec­to­plasm, but it was gen­er­ally cheese­cloth re­gur­gi­tated by the medium.

it’s not of­ten you can de­scribe a de­tec­tive story set in foggy, gas-lit 1890s Lon­don as an ideal sum­mer hol­i­day read, and yet some­how Lisa Tut­tle has man­aged it. Her lat­est novel is a hugely en­joy­able con­fec­tion of back-al­ley cut­purses, so­ci­ety séances, das­tardly vil­lainy, and just the faintest hint of will-they-won’tthey be­tween the two main char­ac­ters, nar­ra­tor Aphrodite “Di” Lane, and her part­ner in de­tect­ing, Jasper Jes­per­son.

Di fetches up in Lon­don in need of a new job. She soon be­comes the Wat­son to Jes­per­son’s Sher­lock, and to­gether they drink a lot of tea and in­ves­ti­gate cases grounded firmly in the fas­ci­na­tions and taboos of the time.

Lane and Jes­per­son have an ap­peal­ing dy­namic, one of both mu­tual re­spect and a de­gree of cre­ative fric­tion. Im­por­tantly, while Di may be a woman in late Vic­to­rian Eng­land, nei­ther her part­ner nor the plot ex­pect her to play sec­ond fid­dle. As part of a wider em­pha­sis on gen­uinely rich, thought­ful world­build­ing, Tut­tle sur­rounds Di with women in a va­ri­ety of roles – not sim­ply the types of so much his­tor­i­cal fic­tion cliché, but also skilled op­er­a­tors in the fledg­ling tele­phone ex­change, un­scrupu­lous para­nor­mal re­searchers, and medi­ums.

It all makes for smart and en­ter­tain­ing fic­tion that has fun with the touch­stones of Vic­to­rian lit­er­a­ture – Wilkie Collins and Arthur Co­nan Doyle are both name-checked, and have clearly in­flu­enced Tut­tle’s at­mos­phere and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion – while also ex­plor­ing, in a light-hearted, light-touch way, what lies be­hind the curtain. Nic Clarke

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