Things in Jars, by Jess Kidd.
‘Things in Jars’ is no different: it is 1863 and Mrs Bridie Devine, a London private detective (straying spouses a specialty) is going through a dark time in her life: a ransomed child that she was charged to find has been found dead, and even though she caught the perpetrator, the little one’s death makes her heart heavy, and her spirits remain so until she is sent to Highgate Chapel to view a bricked-up corpse in the basement.
And who should she see, posing nonchalantly on a handy tombstone before she even crosses the chapel threshold, but a fine handsome young spectre clad in pugilist’s attire and sporting laughing dark eyes, a wonderful moustache and a collection of enough tattoos to make one’s eyes roll. The back of his head has been stove in – ‘a tavern brawl’, he casually announces, but his mates all clubbed together to get him buried in the chapel grounds. And he is amused but offended that she doesn’t recognise him, refraining from giving her any clues as to their earlier association – ‘you’ll just have to work it out yourself, so!’ He is still waiting for her when she emerges from the chapel, horrified at what she has seen – a decayed mother and young baby imprisoned behind a wall, and even worse – the baby had rows of sharp, pointed teeth.
In Victorian England, it was common for those with means to collect curiosities for novelty or to make a financial profit from their freakishness; as Bridie investigates further (always accompanied by her ghostly companion – which no-one can see but herself, thus making her appear to be conducting a long-winded, cross conversation with no-one), she is horrified to learn the extent of the practice, and the large number of people already killed in an effort to preserve sick secrets, and it does her no good to discover that a despicable enemy from her deprived childhood is behind all the wickedness.
Ms Kidd is in complete command of the reader: she orchestrates her prose so that we are laughing like hyenas, or reading through our fingers at the horrors and degradation of 1860’s London, that great dirty city where evil, cruelty, goodness and compassion stride, taunting each other, on opposite sides of the street. I’m a huge fan of the Kidd genre. SIX STARS!