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REVIEW: The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper

Dear Ms. Cooper:

It’s said that every superhero must have an origin story, and Cherry St. Croix’s story is worthy of a superhero. Born wealthy, orphaned and raised poor, Cherry St. Croix is a young woman of fifteen, learning how to comport herself in polite London society of the 1800s, rather than the circus she was rescued from. Addicted to the opiates administered by a very watchful governess, Cherry needs more and more of the drug to feed the addiction – and she needs more and more coin to feed her reading and scientific addictions as well – something she cannot do on the little pin money allotted. With those mercenary aims in mind, she turns to collecting – an early form of bounty hunting – as a way to earn the money she needs. Her first collection sets the tone for the rest of her career to date – a mystery wrapped in a conundrum and tied with the enigmatic bow that is Micjah Hawke, ringmaster of the notoriously infamous Midnight Menagerie pleasure garden. While the collection, on the surface, seems to be a simple retrieval of a man deeply in debt, she quickly finds things aren’t quite that simple, especially when young Irish women go missing in rather large numbers.

The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway Karina CooperI absolutely love the depiction of Cherry as a somewhat cocky, overly confident fifteen year old with delusions of grandeur. What I love even more is the fact that Cherry had the intestinal fortitude to actually pull her plots and plans off; even when things go so horridly pear-shaped that she isn’t quite sure which way is up. It is her very first lesson in the adage that things are not always what they seem. The image of young Cherry, clad in clothes swiped from her butler, venturing into an area rife with the lower class ladies of the evening – and the subsequent chat with one of said ladies – had me laughing out loud at the littlest collector’s sheer consternation. I can’t quite decide if her success was due to some innate skill or the sheer, dumb luck that dictates most human beings don’t eat their young.

The introduction of Fanny, Cherry’s governess / mother substitute, Booth, the butler, and Besty, the lady’s maid / friend, make for a deeper, more rich story. The care and handling of a heretofore somewhat wild Cherry makes for some interesting times, especially considering that it seems no one can keep Cherry where she doesn’t wish to be. Fanny certainly gives off the impression of the prim and proper governess, but I sensed a little more to her story – more that I want to learn. Of the secondary characters, she is the one who piqued my interest.

The one part where I was a touch squeamish was the opiate addiction. It is faintly horrific to me that parents would give their children opiates under the mistaken notion that they were helping them, that it was medicine. And I know my squeamishness is a product of the modern times and upbringing – laudanum was, back in the “olden days,” considered the equivalent of our Advil or Tylenol; it was the cure for all illnesses from a cough to a fever to broken limbs. Some of the inherent horror threading through your stories comes from the idea that the medicine was given to Cherry during her time with the circus to keep her quiet, biddable and addicted. Learning about her childhood addiction turns quite a few things around so I see details from the novels in a different light. Things make much more sense now.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable tale threaded through with adolescent mischief that hints at the darkness to come into Cherry’s life later on. The chance to see our heroine’s origin, to understand her better, gives us a better picture of what makes Cherry St. Croix the sometimes unlikable, always interesting woman she is.

Thank you for allowing us to see a bit behind the curtain! B

Mary Kate

This is a 29,000 word novella.

As a reader who’s old enough to know better and young enough to not care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first responders, and trying to dig my writer/ editor/reviewer husband out from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.

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Guest Reviewer

4 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 15:15:08

    The addiction aspect troubles me as well. Since this is her origin story, does that mean Cherry remains addicted into the later books?

    ReplyReply

  2. Misti
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 17:08:09

    @Darlynne – I’ve read the first book in the series which takes place when she’s around 20, I think, and she is still addicted. It was a bit of an ick factor, but I found the book very enjoyable, all things considered. I want to read the next book.

    ReplyReply

  3. Mary Kate
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 20:18:51

    @Darlynne, as of Corroded (Book 3 in the St. Croix Chronicles, review to be posted at some point in the not too distant future), the addiction continues to play a major role in Cherry’s life.

    ReplyReply

  4. Heather
    Oct 17, 2013 @ 18:50:38

    I tend to agree with almost everything that ended up being composed inside “REVIEW: The Mysterious Case of
    Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper”. Many thanks for all of the
    actual information.Thanks for your effort,Novella

    ReplyReply

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