Things in Jars

Image of Things in Jars
Release Date: 
February 4, 2020
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

“In this ancient myth transformed into a frightening Gothic tale, author Jess Kidd has created a winsome but tough heroine in Bridie Devine, whom readers could happily follow through a series.”

As a child, Bridie Devine was bought for a guinea by a wealthy physician, becoming his ward and assistant and learning to be an astute observer. As an adult, she’s an oddity, a female sleuth who has aided Scotland Yard on occasions.

“A fairer prospect without her bonnet. When she raises her eyes, the mind conjures images of fickle wood and dappled glades. There’s something otherworldly about Bridie. Ethereal.”

Bridie also has acquired two admirers.

One is Inspector Valentine Rose of Scotland Yard. “Just shy of average. Gray eyes, sandy beard, dapper dresser. Rose in his buttonhole. Nose unbroken. Resolute of temper.”

Inspector Rose is very much alive.

The other is pugilist Ruby Doyle. “Clearing six feet. Devastating brown eyes, Mustache, waxed. Nose broken on occasion but always set with careful hands. Passionate of temper.”

Mr. Doyle’s last known address is Highgate Chapel cemetery. He’s very much dead.

Ruby insists he knew Bridie in life. If she remembers when and where, he will be released into the Hereafter. Visible only to her, he’s her constant companion while Inspector Rose can merely send one of his men trailing behind to make certain Bridie is safe during her investigations.

Currently, Bridie is inquiring about an abduction. Sir Edmund Berwick has reported his daughter missing, a daughter no one is aware of, not even the servants in the house where the child lives.

Gone also are her nurse and the family physician.

Sir Edmund is less than forthcoming with information.

“You say your daughter has singular traits. Can you elaborate?”

Sir Edmund looks evasive. “They are somewhat slippery.”

Bridie endeavors to remain patient. “Sir Edmund, if these singular traits led to Christabel being abducted, then you must enlighten me.”

Sir Edmund sighs. “On the subject of Christabel, Madam, I can’t enlighten you.”

It’s obvious who has done what but why did none of the servants know about the child? Why is her room in a secret passage soaking with sea water and the floor littered with empty snail shells?

Who is Christabel Eames? Really?

Does the fact that Dr. Eames is a Collector of Oddities—grotesque things in jars—have anything to do with the child’s disappearance?

Bridie and her maid Cora—seven feet of muscular charm—and Ruby Doyle soon find themselves in the midst of a legend come to life, an item the good doctor “collected” that has now turned on him.

While searching for Christabel, the story of the child’s origins slowly come to light—from a stately country manor house to a traveling circus to a distant seaside village—bringing Bridie face to face with someone from her own past, a cruel, selfish boy grown into a crueler, more selfish adult who intends to add Christabel to his collection and no one, not even Bridie Devine, is going to stop him.

Bridie’s going to try, however, and in doing so, will solve a crime from the past, as well as Ruby Doyle’s identity.

A most unusual story with a very unusual heroine. Bridie’s story, told in flashback, gives the wheres and whyfores of her life, comparing her own origins and advent into Dr. Eames’ life to the way Sir Edmund acquires Christabel.

The more literary of readers may call to mind Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” and in doing so, will be one step ahead in realizing the direction in which this story will travel.

Though unfortunately told in the current fad of first-person present, this tale of men seeking a mermaid, that beguiling siren luring sailors to their doom, and finding instead a merrow, a much rarer and more dangerous creature, is at the same time a mystery as well as a horror story.

As intriguing as Bridie’s search for the missing Christabel and the delving into the mystery of her origins is the mystery of her acquaintance with Ruby Doyle and the bittersweet and gentle growing of affection between woman and ghost. It’s as sad a tale as that of any mermaid who falls in love with a human, and there’s no way it can have a happy ending.

In this ancient myth transformed into a frightening Gothic tale, author Jess Kidd has created a winsome but tough heroine in Bridie Devine, whom readers could happily follow through a series.