Thursday, 8 March 2018

Review: The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lisa Tuttle is a highly respected name in SFF, and her prose is very capable. Apart from a few instances of unnecessary coordinate commas, the copy editing was flawless, and (unlike a lot of books with a Victorian setting) both the language and the background details here felt period-authentic to me.

Perhaps a little too much so; the Victorians were terrible for overwriting (by modern standards), and there are a couple of parts of the book that move slowly, threaten to choke on their own detail, and don't progress the plot. The pacing, in fact, I found somewhat uneven, with a very rapid, almost rushed, solution coming right at the end.

The other big problem I had with the book was that the viewpoint character is not the protagonist, and does not solve the mystery (though she does contribute by finding things out; she's not completely useless as a detective, and is a better one than, for example, Watson). Her male partner, who is like - very like - a younger, less eccentric Sherlock Holmes, figures it all out and informs her at the same time as the other interested parties in a couple of traditional parlour scenes; since the partners are in different places a lot of the time, a great deal of the mystery-solving goes on offstage. I found this less than satisfying in terms of a detective novel.

It's an occult detective novel, and the occult part becomes unequivocally occult relatively late; struck me as unlikely; and is a massive red herring which doesn't have any real bearing on the central mystery. It could have been removed without loss to the plot, and in fact I feel that removing it might have made for a slightly better book - certainly a more cohesive one. On the other hand, I found it more interesting in many ways than the actual mystery itself, and felt the detectives were also more interested in it than they were in the case they'd been hired to solve.

Overall, these issues combined to drop my rating to three stars. Though I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, my enjoyment was mild, and it never really caught fire for me.

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