There are some things that just won’t fail you. A family member who’s always there to listen. A friend who loves to laugh. Your dog who never leaves your side. A really great cup of coffee. Pretty much every kind of pasta.
Any novel by Jess Kidd.
Of the three Jess Kidd novels that I’ve read, Things In Jars is by far the darkest. Set in 1863 Victorian London, the story teems with sinister intentions and questionable characters. Pair these with the unholy pursuit of medical curiosities, and you have a formidable chase on your hands.
Luckily, London’s finest female detective is on the case. Meet Bridie Devine, a pipe-smoking, red-headed spitfire whose powers of deduction are only matched by her curious background in medicine. When she’s hired by a man of society to locate his abducted daughter, Bridie throws herself into the investigation.
The issue, however, is that the female child she’s searching for is, herself, a medical curiosity. Christabel Berwick is the secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and she’s reputed to have supernatural powers. Now the race is on to find Christabel before her kidnappers sell her to the highest bidder, as there is a surprising demand for oddities like her in this age of collection and discovery.
The closer Bridie gets to rescuing Christabel, the wider the gap she reveals in her own painful past. The story wavers back and forth between Bridie’s present day and her childhood days as a surgical apprentice. The collision of these two stories is inevitable, and I would wince every time Bridie recollected something new. I kept questioning if her past would make her stronger, or if it would be her undoing. Bridie Devine is a wonderfully complex character, and you’ll root for her from the start.
The strength of Jess Kidd’s novels is not just clever plots, but also in how she assembles unforgettable and enchanting supporting characters. This case, for example, is better solved with the help of a 7-foot housemaid, a little girl who’s partial to chocolate pudding, and a brooding boxer who also happens to be a ghost. (Since no Jess Kidd novel is complete without the direct involvement and wisecracking of at least one person from the grave, I would have expected nothing less.)
I know this story sounds far-fetched, but it works – beautifully. I became so emotionally attached to Bridie, Ruby and Cora that I was heartbroken when I had to leave them. I actually went back and read a few of the more endearing exchanges between them, just to hang on for a little longer. (Aside: if I’m ever in a jam, I do hope that I have someone like Cora by my side. What a remarkable character! She deserves her own novel.)
If you’re heading into the holiday weekend and wish to escape into a wonderful book, please consider Things In Jars by Jess Kidd. It’s the perfect balance of mystery, humor and otherworldliness. Even Christabel, who never says a word throughout the novel, will leave her mark on you.