Jess Kidd introduces readers to a fascinating new fictional heroine, Bridie Devine, her primary character in her latest offering Things in Jars. This novel, by the author of Himself and Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, is a chimera of historical mystery and fantasy, with a pinch of romance added as well. Bridie Devine is a figure regarded with suspicious respect in Victorian England in her role as a female detective with an odd choice of interests and expertise. Her natural intellect and powers of deduction have become enhanced by an independent spirit and steely hardiness developed as a byproduct of her untraditional Irish background. When Bridie is brought in to help recover the kidnapped child of a Baronet, she wonders why she was selected for the assignment in lieu of the traditional authorities. It becomes clear, however, that the nature of this case involves some unsavory and fantastical elements that require a unique approach. A mystery regarding Bridie’s own past is interwoven with a main storyline that encompasses ghosts, mermaids, Resurrection Men, exploited circus “freaks,” and genetic oddities that attract the interest of unethical medical experimenters. There is a lot going on in this novel, and the stylized language and brief forays into the second person perspective exacerbate a sense of disorientation. Kidd does a fairly good job of keeping the narrative on track, however, with a steady pace and chapter/section breaks that help prevent the reader from getting too lost along the way. Although Things in Jars concludes in a satisfying way, the author leaves open the possibility of a sequel or series featuring Bridie Devine- a character that is compelling enough pique a reader’s interest in revisiting her world.
Thanks to the author, Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.