The reviews of Things in Jars, by Jess Kidd, have been somewhat mixed. I have no idea why. I loved this highly imaginative, disturbing novel that is packed to the rafters with brilliant characters. I inhaled this book. What’s not to love about this novel of homicidal anatomical collectors, ghost boxers, giant maids, and a determined detective who is called in when people need their mysteries investigated discreetly?
In another century, Bridie Devine would have been a surgeon. Her old gaffer, a drunken ex-surgeon-turned-resurrection-man, inadvertently trained her to recognize causes and times of death as he procured bodies for anatomists. Bridie has two strikes against her in 1863. First, she’s a woman. Second, she’s Irish. Still, her powers of observation and knowledge of death stand her in good stead as a private detective. Even more than her experience, Bridie’s determination to do good and see justice done drives her to solve cases in spite of any danger to herself. We meet Bridie as she is still licking metaphorical wounds after a failed case—and also when she is met by a persistent ghost who insists that Bridie knows who he is. The ghost of the boxer who keeps popping up is just one of many mysteries that Bridie tackles in Things in Jars.
The ghost isn’t our first clue that there are supernatural goings on in Things in Jars. A creature (for lack of a better word) is stolen in the prologue, with fatal results for one of her kidnappers. This creature is first described to Bridie as the daughter of a country scientist, who is kept in seclusion because of her “differences.” But things don’t add up. Why hasn’t her client gone to the police to report his daughter’s kidnapping? Why does it appear that the child’s nanny was involved? What’s up with the strange mermaid-like specimen in her client’s house? All of these questions, the active plot, are laid over very interesting, deeper questions about liberty, the right to pursue happiness, and vigilante justice when society at large is oblivious and/or willing to turn a blind eye.
Jess Kidd is absolutely one of my favorite contemporary writers because I know that every thing she writes will be unusual, entertaining, and original. Things in Jars is such a good read—as are Kidd’s other novels—that I honestly couldn’t say which one I love best. What I can say is that, if you’re in the mood for something different, something that makes you question the reality you see around you, if you love books in which old, bloody secrets refuse to stay buried, definitely pick up Things in Jars and Kidd’s other novels, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort (also titled, The Hoarder) and Himself.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.