Tag Archives: 19th century

The Hanged Man and the Fortune Teller by Lucy Banks

The ghost is in a purgatorial state, believing that if he can just remember, he can move on. The fortune teller, his companion in spirit—literally—assists him in filling in his memory. As the story progresses forward and backward throughout his life, Dear Reader meets the ghost’s family, connections that come and go in his mind, bringing emotions forth that yet again obscure memories. Reference to the ghost as the hanged man portends his metaphysical status, and the conclusion is satisfying in its complete lack of resolution potential, possibly the best ending in fiction. It’s a beautiful thing when an author leads the way to the only inevitable conclusion through a pathway that could only have happened that way, maintaining the integrity of the characters’ personalities. Banks at last evokes compassion for a man who had few redeeming qualities in life, an impressive feat. I received this excellent story of beautiful writing from the publisher Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.

The Essex Serpent (2017 Custom House) by Sarah Perry

Victorian Brit Cora Seaborne tries to hide her relief at her wealthy tyrant husband’s death. She engages fully with the world now without fear, traveling to a small town on the coast in search of the mythological Essex serpent, who becomes a full-fledged, never seen character in its own right. She and the married parson of the town find themselves in a love-hate relationship, fueled by their intellect, curious natures, and singular predicaments. Side characters portray medicinal and surgical protocols and revelations of the time period interwoven through the story.

The characters are delightfully complex, with evolving relationships and growth spurts that are relatable to readers. I loved how the author kept the dreaded serpent always in the background of the story, factoring it into many of the various story lines, while feeding the idealogical argument about it between the main character and the parson. She did a brilliant job of weaving the history of surgery throughout the story as well, which fascinated me. There was also a bit of politics of the times regarding the treatment of poor Londoners based on a morality spectrum.

Readers who love historical fiction that counters advancements with their resistance from the old and established will like this story. Readers who like complicated love stories that aren’t wrapped up neatly in the end, but offer opportunity for reader speculation, will also like this novel.

Edinburgh Twilight (2017 Thomas & Mercer) by Carol Lawrence

Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton seeks a serial killer in Edinburgh. DI Hamilton is a quick study of character, clever, and compassionate towards those considered “dregs of society.” A tragedy and unanswered questions spur him toward justice.

Lawrence carefully weaves backstory into the contemporary tale. I wish she had done the same with side characters, instead of introducing each one as they were needed to move the story forward, which makes those chapters feel cleaved from the main story even as they contribute information. All of her characters have distinctive traits, many of them delightfully quirky.

Readers who love mysteries, parallel storylines, complex family characters, and / or 19th century Scotland will like this book.

I appreciate receiving an advanced digital copy from Net Galley at netgalley.com.