The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle – a review by Jeanette Greaves

somnambulistI’ll put my cards on the table right away. I’m a big fan of Lisa Tuttle, I got hooked on her short stories when I was a young woman in my twenties. I’d happily spend a month’s disposable income on one of her paperbacks. I love her science fiction and fantasy books, and have tried to keep up to date with her work over the years, as she’s explored many aspects of genre fiction. I did not expect her to launch a series of detective stories, but with ‘The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief’, that’s exactly what she has done. As a fan, I would have bought this book anyway, but was lucky enough to receive a review copy from her publisher.

Detective fiction is absolutely not my genre. I read my way through a whole pile of Poirot, Miss Marple, Ellary Queen and Sherlock Holmes books in my teenage years, and have never been tempted to repeat the experience. The whole genre seems to hang upon the puzzle of figuring out who dunnit, and sometimes, what was done. Obviously there are many millions of people out there who absolutely love that, but it’s not for me. I kinda like to see a spaceship, or a big disaster, or at the very least some kind of supernatural happening.

So … thanks are due to Ms Tuttle for producing a detective story with a decidedly supernatural theme. I think that most readers will figure out very quickly ‘who dunnit’, but the questions of ‘what they did’ and how our heroes are going to stop it happening, are intriguing enough to make this book a real page turner. The book is set in the period of Sherlock Holmes, and there are several nods in the direction of Mr Conan Doyle. It’s also set firmly in the world of spiritualists, and their attendant cynics and would be debunkers. Our very own heroine is of a decidedly sensible bent, but she has much to discover about herself.

The book introduces a set of characters who I hope will continue through the series. The detectives of the piece are Miss Lane and Mr Jesperson. Miss Lane is a heroine for the ages, a truly independent woman with principles, curiosity, and a vast store of cynical common sense. She has found herself unemployed, homeless and penniless, because of her strong principles; but within the space of a few chapters she acquires a new role, as the professional partner of Mr Jesperson, a young man of huge talent and even huger self belief. The pair are perfect foils for each other, and whilst their fondness for each other grows throughout the book, this is a perfectly platonic and respectable relationship. It has to be, as Lane and Jesperson are living under the same roof as the wonderful Mrs Jesperson. She is the hero’s mother, and a woman almost magically capable of managing a respectable middle class existence on a very small income indeed. The fourth character, who I fervently hope will appear in future novels, is Miss Fox, the erstwhile employer of Miss Lane. I have to admit, I have a real soft spot for Miss Fox, who manages to be simultaneously fascinating and very annoying.

The book is beautifully written, I enjoyed the simple, flowing style which is the mark of a master at work. It’s also very well researched, and served as a taster for an internet trip of my own into the history of mediums in Victorian Britain.

If you like a good tale well told, or if you like a strong female protagonist, or if you’d like to get in on the ground floor of what is set to be one of the most entertaining detective series of the decade … read this book. 

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