17 April 2021

A Good Read

Things In Jars by Jess Kidd
Roll up, roll up, suspend belief, prepare to be entertained. Things In Jars reads like an old fashioned circus. Whilst it wouldn't make my 'All time favourite reads list' I liked it, but my book club girls didn’t. One comment was “too much unnecessary prose, and repetition” there probably was a bit but I didn't feel the need to skip any of it; and most of them didn’t like the content, yes some of it is grim. Victorian London was grim, awash with violence, crime, disease, stink, penury, and dead bodies. Bodies appeared almost hourly, in doorways with their throats cut or heads caved in. Half-burnt in hearths, garroted in garrets, folded into trunks or bobbing about in the Thames, great bloated shoals of them. And the installation of a world class sewer system only added to the mire as bodies were unearthed. Kidd describes Victorian London perfectly. I thought one aerial description as seen through the eyes of a raven was particularly potent:
Breathe in—but not too deeply. Follow the fulsome fumes from the tanners and the reek from
the brewery, butterscotch rotten, drifting across Seven Dials. Keep on past the mothballs and
the cheap tailor’s and turn left at the singed silk of the maddened hatter. Just beyond, you’ll
detect the unwashed crotch of the overworked prostitute and the Christian sweat of the
charwoman. On every inhale a shifting scale of onions and scalded milk, chrysanthemums
and spiced apple, broiled meat and wet straw, and the sudden stench of the Thames as the
wind changes direction and blows up the knotted backstreets. Above all, you may notice
the rich and sickening chorus of shit.

Medicine was making great headway into understanding anesthesia and medical and surgical procedures, and to advance their understanding doctors and surgeons studied dead bodies, some obtained legally, but many nefariously. And then there were the collectors, the arrogant, ruthless, amoral gentry collectors, hungry for the unusual, abnormal, remarkable - Things in Jars. And a little girl named Christobel.

The story starts in London in 1863, Bridie Devine is a private detective. She wears a dagger strapped to her thigh, smokes a pipe, often enlivened with substances other than pure tobacco, and she solves murders by reading corpses and talking to a ghost. She shares her home with her quirky assistant, the seven-foot-tall Cora, who asks more than once whether Bridie would like this or that person held upside down. The other frequent companion in her life and investigations is Ruby Doyle. Ruby, a renowned boxer in his day, is the ghost. He appears shirtless in shorts sporting a cocked top hat, muscles aplenty, and a considerable number of tattoos, with peculiarities all their own. Devilishly handsome - think Tom Hardy with a handlebar moustache! Ruby knows Bridie well, and she finds him very attractive. Their history is revealed later in the story.
Bridie’s last case was a disaster, she is haunted by her inability to prevent the death of a child. With her reputation in tatters, she is surprised when Sir Edmund Berwick hires her to find his kidnapped 6 year old daughter Christobel. Bridie is determined not to fail. But Christobel is no ordinary child, she has extraordinary abilities, and water behaves oddly whenever she is near. The Thames is resurgent, battered by never ending biblical rains as the city floods.
With gruesome murders, double dealing and avarice Bridie must keep her wits about her if she is to find the child.

This book won't suit everyone, I was the only one out of 12 of us in my book club who liked it. I thought it was a clever combination of humour, kitsch, folklore, imagination and colourful characters, and I liked the fantasy and gothic elements.

∼ Happy Reading ∼
Polly x


  1. I shall remember not to complain about the car fumes and the smells of street food when I visit the metropolis in future!

    1. ha, ha, yes, well said John, almost perfume by comparison!

  2. It does sound a bit grim, though I do enjoy learning about the history of medicine.

    1. it wasn't so much history as descriptions of early operations!!

  3. From your description of the plot and characters, the book seems tailor-made for movie or TV series treatment.

  4. As you said, it was a grim time. But the books sounds - not bad. I put it on my to read list. Thanks.

    1. It is a good read. I hope you enjoy it Pam.

  5. Not sure I will put it on my book list, but very interesting to read this post and see your thoughts, thank you.

    All the best Jan


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