If you, like me, have a taste for the odd, the hard-to-characterize, the quirky, then you’re in the right place. This month the library has quite a selection of odd, hard-to-describe and downright weird books for your reading pleasure (and, sometimes, to enable you to say, “What on earth is going on in this book and why am I enjoying it so much?”).
There’s enough oddball stuff going on in late Victorian and early Edwardian era England that the temptation to bring Sherlock Holmes into the strange corners of that world has to be irresistible. James Lovegrove is not the first to combine Sherlock Holmes with H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos (Neil Gaiman did it earlier, in the brilliant short story, “A Study in Emerald,” to be found in his collection , Fragile Things, which is wonderful and also available in the Field Library), but there’s plenty of room for more than one Holmes-Cthulhu pastiche in the world. With that in mind, let’s welcome Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows, which takes us to the beginning of the famous detective’s career, and places him in an environment in which there’s an outbreak of insanity in London’s East End, reducing ordinary people to gibbering wrecks, and a strange creeping fog hiding what could be terrifying apparitions. Holmes, as we all know, focuses his attention on reality and not superstition, and so he believes these odd phenomena are connected to a sinister new drug lord from the East, extending his empire to London. However, this is one time when eliminating the impossible is more difficult than Holmes imagines, and he finds himself dealing with something much bigger and stranger than a mere criminal. This is the first book in what should be a most entertaining (if quirky) series, so get in on the ground floor now.
And while we’re talking about late Victorian horrors, let’s not forget one of my favorites, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, fodder for generations of imitations and homages, and now the source for a new book, The Jekyll Revelation, by Robert Masello. Rafael Salazar, in modern day California, is an environmental scientist on a routine patrol in Topanga Canyon who happens to find an antique trunk instead of a poacher. The trunk contains, among other things, a handwritten journal by Robert Louis Stevenson, discussing the details of how he came to write The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and insinuating that he has information about the true identity of Jack the Ripper. The trunk also contains a small bottle containing the last of Dr. Jekyll’s infamous potion, and there are others in modern California who are very interested in that formula, and not for purely altruistic purposes. The story alternates between Rafe’s current situation and excerpts from Stevenson’s journal, building suspense as monsters from the past prepare to rise again in the present.
Perhaps you’re interested in something less dark, especially around the holiday season. If so, then turn your attention to Fannie Flagg’s newest book, The Whole Town’s Talking. Fannie Flagg is probably best known for her book (turned into a movie) Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, so quirky is pretty much her middle name. The Whole Town’s Talking starts with an interesting premise: the deceased residents of this small town in Missouri are waking up underground and reconnecting with their living loved ones, over the course of 150 years. Naturally, when you’re talking about that long a period, the living and the dead get used to this kind of interaction (come on, admit it: you’re interested in reading it just from that premise — I certainly am) and take it more or less for granted. Until one day when the deceased residents start disappearing for good, and the living in the town have to investigate and discover what’s happening and whether it can be stopped — or whether it should be stopped. Billed as “a surprising story of life, afterlife and the mysterious goings-on of ordinary people,” The Whole Town’s Talking gives a different perspective on our ordinary world.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of the great Baron Hieronymous von Munchausen, a larger than life character famous throughout Europe during the 19th century for his tall tales (you might have come across him in the 1988 movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame), but if you’re in the mood to make his acquaintance, try The Return of Munchausen, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, new to the Field Library, in which the Baron reappears in 20th century Europe, just around the time of World War I. What could be more absurd to the Baron than the machinations and tenuous peace in Europe after the horrors of war, and where would imagination be more valuable? If it’s not possible for the baron to change the future of Europe through diplomacy, perhaps he can hold up a mirror to its absurdities and cause the people in power to reconsider their disastrous courses, and in the meantime, he will continue to be larger than life and stand up for the power of imagination to its most absurd extent.