It’s that time of year – time for those lovers of darkness to unapologetically celebrate the macabre and get spooky. It isn’t just Halloween looming around the corner; something about the seasons shifting from humid and sweltering to cooler, drier air with a hint of smoke, the crunch of dead leaves and the majestic, creepy huge spiders suspended from the trees that just gets you in the mood to curl up with your favorite blanket, a cup of something hot, and a wonderfully creepy book.
I’m a lover of all things dark no matter the time of year, and when it comes to literature, the darker the better. Give me any genre – thriller, horror, gothic, mystery, and everything in between, I’m your gal. I was recently given the opportunity to read a fellow Regal House/Fitzroy author’s debut, and it did not disappoint. Fans of the show Penny Dreadful will love this one.
Melanie Cossey’s A Peculiar Curiosity is one of those rare books that toes the line between all those dark genres and comes together in a vivid, melancholy and downright terrifying book. I couldn’t put it down. It was like Mary Shelley meets Edgar Allen Poe with a dash of Diana Gabaldon, and I mean that in the best possible way. Well-written, full of fascinating historical details (seriously, this woman did her research and I live for that) and genuinely scary, it is the perfect novel to get you into the October mood.
Recently divorced, estranged from his long-suffering daughter (and, as a result, his grandson) and put on temporary leave due to mental health issues, anthropology professor Duncan Clarke is understandably down on his luck. Alone in his newly abandoned old home with nothing but the mice in the walls to keep him company, he has far too much time to obsess over what his family considers unhealthy hobbies. When he intercepts a cache of old papers and books from the ancestor of a 19th century curiosities dealer who might have been up to some nefarious activities, Duncan falls headlong into uncovering a shocking, depraved mystery. Edward Walker kept journals, a disturbing daily log of his dealings with ‘Specimen Z’, a young boy entrusted to his care during a trip to the West Indies, smuggled aboard a ship and into London – a boy whose very existence is a lesson in terror. What happened to the child? At first glance, Walker thinks he’s merely suffering from some rare disease with unusual symptoms, but as time goes on, he wonders: could he be dealing with a monster? Walker is forced to extreme action to keep the bewitched child a secret, while a smattering of horrific and gory murders rock the back streets of London. In present day, Duncan finds himself in a race against time, retracing footsteps and committing crimes of his own, in a desperate bid to discover Edward Walker’s disturbing secrets, and the fate of the doomed child. Will he uncover the truth before outside sinister forces, or his own insanity, catch up with him?
I especially loved the parallels to Frankenstein, the gothic standard of psychological terror written by the amazing Mary Shelley. Like Shelley, Cossey deftly illustrates the desire of man to “play God” with the most vulnerable, marginalized and/or misunderstood in society, and the havoc they wreak from such entitled selfishness. Both the curiosities dealer and the professor eschew family and every day domestic tasks to pursue their research, causing real harm to people as a result of their single-minded, manic devotion to their discoveries. The novel, while engaging and fun, does bring certain philosophical questions to mind – when does our meddling become harmful? And are we absolved of moral responsibility when our actions are ‘in the name of science’? Is the dogged pursuit of discovery more important than a person’s humanity?
Harkening to a time when Jack the Ripper roamed the streets unburdened and graverobbers sold severed limbs to the highest bidder in the name of research, A Peculiar Curiosity draws forth feelings of dread, despair, and good old-fashioned bloody fun. Terrifying, thought-provoking and deliciously morbid, A Peculiar Curiosity is a thrilling and well-written read all the way up until it’s shocking conclusion.