Book Review : The Curious Affair of The Witch At Wayside Cross
From The Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane
By Lisa Tuttle
The paranormal answer to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Jesperson and Lane are turning the Victorian era upside down in this bewitching series from John W. Campbell Award winner Lisa Tuttle.
“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane.
According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft.
But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
I really like a good Sherlockian mystery, and The Curious Affair Of The Witch At Wayside Cross fits the bill. A good mystery is always intriguing because I want to solve the puzzle. I was let down on a couple of points, but there were so many good elements to override the couple of let downs.
First, I enjoyed the two detectives, both individually and how they worked together. Mr. Jesperson is the Sherlock-type character, though his discoveries are not so incredulous, which I find to be refreshing. He is also quirky, a non-conformist and can be secretive in his deductions. Miss Lane is independent, intelligent and a fully trusted partner, unlike Watson who was a foil for Sherlock. The two characters work together while solving the crime, and they are not secretly in love with one another. I also was glad to see that we could work on solving the crime, rather than worry over romantic overtures. A secondary character that I loved was the Reverend Ringer. He was more of a bash you over the head, or a fighter you would find in the boxer’s ring with his bible clenched in his teeth. His only soft spot was for allowing his wife to run the house as she saw fit.
Second, there are genuinely funny lines. One of my favorites was when Miss Lane was confronted by the murder victim, just before he died, with an accusation of ‘witch’ thrown into the room. Her response seems to be as if she has turned to look behind her because she surely couldn’t be seen as a witch. She states how she is a small woman, and no one has ever felt threatened by her presence. I was laughing my head off over that little scene. Another favorite scene was of the image of Jespersen loping out into the rain to find the missing bicycle, cheerful on all accounts in the face of the Mrs. Ringer’s irrational behavior.
Third, I loved the varying story lines. I was caught up trying to figure out how the missing baby could have anything to do with the suspected murder of Charles Manning. In a mystery I want to have elements that don’t add up perfectly so I am deluded into believing a false trail or misunderstanding the clues that become clear at a future date. The self-proclaimed witch and Felix Ott, the preservationist of the historical religion and folklore of England, are another two disparate story lines, with individuals who had interacted with Charles Manning.
I hate to give away big spoilers, so here is my attempt to be vague: I did not like the resolution for the stolen infant. It seemed like an easy out in stead of having an explanation grounded in the existing story-frame. In order for me to buy into that story line, I felt like I would need more backing, foreshadowing or evidence.
I felt like I had the mystery solved, prior to the end of the novel, however, not until near the end. It seems like a good mystery strings the reader along until about the end and so this one had a good pace with the clues and final reveal. I’m not going to tell you how Charles Manning died, but I think you will have a strong suspicion as you read into it about three quarters of the way through. The author left clues that the reader will remember, and the murder puzzle pieces fit together.
Finally, I wouldn’t have branded this book as paranormal. The witch, the eldest sister, at Wayside Cross seems more like an herbalist than having unearthly powers. She has a bird, who does seem to have special powers of observation, but there is nothing concrete that shows a result from magic that he might hold.
Unsavory subjects were handled with a delicate touch, the Victorian era setting is convincing and the characters are engaging. It is appropriate for a broad audience, from teens through adults. I would definitely recommend The Curious Affair Of The Witch At Wayside Cross. I will absolutely want to read more in this series.
4 out of 5 stars
If you like this one try:
Sorcery and Cecilia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede (plenty of magic),
Number 17 by Louis Tracy (superstitious more than magic, and an OLD book),
The Lost Book Of The Grail by Charlie Lovett (more legend than magic),
The Screaming Staircase Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud (definitely paranormal) and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (no magic, but plenty of chemistry and a fantastic characterization of a brilliant, young girl).