Babayaga by Toby Barlow (4 out of 5)
This novel is quite a find! I haven’t read Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, but after reading this, I probably have to go back and research that one. This was a madcap caper of a read. Quite a cast, unusual premise, outright funny and equal parts oddity, and even better- the setting is 1959 Paris. If there’s nothing I love better than not loving Paris or France these days, it’s how fun and free the city was back then, as opposed to my vision of it nowadays (4 day work weeks, stinky cheese, and stinky people who don’t like soap or deodorant. But again, tis only a vision). Anyway, apologies for that. Onto the book!
You have five main characters: Will, an ad exec who’s really working for the CIA as an ad exec, although it’s not really an ad agency he’s working for, it’s the freaking CIA. Zoya, who’s recovering from a breakup with her ex, whom she impaled on a spike. PS: Zoya may be a witch, although she only plays one on the streets of Paris. Her friend Elga is the epitome of a witch, and her partner in crime. Oliver is a high-flying social paragon who is going to start a literary publication for his well-connected American friends, but of course there are conditions attached. Oliver doesn’t seem to care as long as he can get his drink on, which he does frequently and effectively. Then there’s Inspector Vidot, the police detective who lives a quiet life, until the murder investigation he’s working on, ends up turning him into a flea. Wait, what?????
With a cast like that, how can you not like this book? There’s so much with all of these random avenues through Paris that could have melded into a pot of mess, but Toby Barlow has this one. This book was fun. It was does, oddly enough, have underlying themes of morality, love, deceit, political unrest, and best yet- Soviet witches. I had read about this book in the Ingram Advance and ordered one copy for the store. It seemed quirky enough that I could read it and recommend it. I wish I had ordered more; now I will have to because I’m putting it up on the recommends. I got weighed down toward the end, only because ultimately, these stories do intersect, the story runs its course, and the book ends. I hope Barlow brings back Zoya. What a fun character and mash of contradictions. Those, for the record, are my favorite characters. So if you are looking for unusual characters, a fun setting, twists and turns and laughs, this is the book for you.