These are the difficult reviews to write. When you just can’t connect with a story that most everyone else seems to love. This one has all the right elements.
1926 New York with speakeasies, flappers, glitter and temperance. Seventeen year old Evie O’Neill has just arrived to stay with her Uncle who runs The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When a body, branded with a cryptic symbol is found her Uncle, who has a well informed obsession with the occult, is called in and Evie tags along. But Evie has secrets of her own, special powers that allow her to divine certain things about people.
She is also a party girl in a city teeming with life; other stories unfold, other secrets emerge. Oh and something dark and evil has awakened, armed with a sinister agenda. Naughty John has come home, whistling his own little ditty.
Most of the main characters in this story are about the same age as Evie but have a history, feelings that bely their young age. Something doesn’t fit. Memphis, a poetry writing, numbers runner, was the only character that bled through the pages to reach me; I thought he was wonderful, touched by a thoughtful pen. The rest are cardboard cut-outs, restored images of a time and place. Bray does an excellent job in painting atmospheric scenes, both shiny and grim. There just images though, ideas pulled wet from a well, then groomed and channelled to promise future tales, pushed together, edges furled, some left flapping; bound by the thin thread of a story. For me there was no harmony, not as though Bray hit the wrong notes exactly, more like she never quite found the right ones. It felt more assembled than written, nothing flowed or coalesced and in the end I felt removed and yes, manipulated.
Perhaps most unsettling of all, my daughter absolutely loved this book. Over time and after many a shared stroll through many a page, bound and moved by a myriad of words, I have come to trust and respect her opinion. And while our interests may take us in different directions, more often then not, when we meet, we agree. We may not be completely in sync, but we are at least in the same ball park. Not here. Not even the same playing field.
Ouch! It must be me. No worries…….books will find their own home.