The Quick by Lauren Owen (4 out of 5)
I had hopes that this wicked cool looking book would have brought me back onto a threshold of Victorian era gothic mystery that was similar to Caleb Carr. In a sense, it did, as the feel of the times and the people populating London, 1893, was perfectly captured. The cover does that time period justice. The morals, ethics, and strict code of etiquette governing even the upper classes were put forth with no auspices of pretend; Owen captures the time period, the characters, and the downtrodden vibe permeating London perfectly. Where it lost me was some of the characters and how the plot points rolled out, in deference to what I felt would have made more sense. But more on that later..
James Norbury is a pallid, quiet poet living in a rented room in London. James is a sort of man who goes around minding his manners, and trying to keep his nose clean. This is London in the late 1800’s, in a time where Jack The Ripper prowled the London streets and terrified many. No matter how upper middle class you were, there was no differentiating when the knife struck. James has a troublemaker and first class rapscallion for a roommate. Christopher and he strike up an odd friendship, based more on late nights of reflection and brandy. This takes a turn that I didn’t see coming, and it tips the novel upside down. The right side up is represented by James’ sister Charlotte, living in the country in a broken down mansion that they grew up in, and the mansion is what James is in charge of, although you wouldn’t know it from him( not taking care of his duties with upkeep). Charlotte is caregiver for their long ailing aunt, and she begins to get alarmed when James becomes more and more distant, finally dropping out of sight completely, shortly after their relative passes. Charlotte, worried sick about her brother, heads off to the big bad city. What she finds is beyond anything she ever expected to find. Charlotte is in for the fight of her life, and luckily for her, she has others who are prepared to help her get to the bottom of what happened to James and his roommate Christopher, who also disappeared. What you get is one turn after another, most of the intrigue centering around Aegolus, a mysterious men’s club in the middle of London, where strange happenings occur almost as normally as fog along the Thames. Several denizens of the club befriend Charlotte, and she finds herself in the middle of an ages old society of beings that may just end up killing half of, if not most of, London… if someone doesn’t put a stop to it. By the end of the book, you are strangely satisfied, sated, and yet, still puzzled over multiple things that happened. Those multiple things are what keeps this reader from calling it a five star novel. Can I tell you? Well, if I gave you the slightest hint, it will put the kibosh on a number of things in the book that catapult it to the final knell, so I will refrain. Read the book!
This book tilts left and right so fast that you’re often caught off balance, and no matter of pages read can quite put it right. You hope for the best, you hope for the worst, you hope to get to the bottom of this mystery. And you do, but it splinters across almost 600 pages before you get the story. And you may, dear reader, grow a little tired of reading between the lines of prim Charlotte’s dialogue. Being akin to a spinster myself, I didn’t, but the action did lag somewhat. Unexpected romance springs up among the oddest and most dire of circumstances, and the way this romance blossoms, well, suffice to say that does seem to be one of the high points of the eventual ending. Many of Owen’s secondary characters are ridiculously entertaining, often more so than the main characters, which is never a good standing point for the novel.
What I can say is that I didn’t see the story evolving as it went along, at least not in the manner that I thought it would. And kudos to the author for that. You are on your toes throughout, which is not an easy feat either, so kudos for that. As I said, there are extraneous threads woven throughout this novel, that once it’s tied up, still some loose ends are about, and as they are not tied up in a nice, neat package, well, you lose some steam on that front. Overall, I recommend it highly. It did not match early Caleb Carr, nor did it come anywhere near Michael Cox, a recent favorite of mine, in terms of rocking the socks off of this genre, but she comes pretty damn close.