Welcome to Trifles and Folly, a store with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaid continues a family tradition begun in 1670 – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500-year-old vapire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.
When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to the abandoned old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.
It’s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.
The blurb for Deadly Curiosities captures the plot pretty well, despite its apparent Paranormal Romance intimations (there’s none of that here); unfortunately what it doesn’t tell the reader is how uneven this book is, or even that it’s set in Charlseton…
That uneveness isn’t in the characters, to give Martin her credit. Deadly Curiosities has an amazing and vibrant cast; from Cassidy herself and Sorren, the immortal whose history with the Kincaides and more broadly weighs on him as a long history of losses and of fighting the supernatural, through Teag and Anthony, Cassidy’s employee and his high-powered corporate lawyer partner, and in more minor characters, Martin ensures these are rounded believable figures. Actually, this romance is a beautifully written one; Anthony’s concern but willingness to help his partner, Teag’s concern for Anthony himself, and the simplicity of the presentation of them as a gay couple (and indeed the only couple in the novel) is really well done.
Maggie, who appears only briefly, is rendered vividly and powerfully both by her description in her appearance and by her absence; Drea is a friendly gossip whose garrolousness is brilliantly shown; Mrs. Morrissey, the woman who curates the town archives and has a taste for the scandalous; and the rest of the cast. If one thing jars, it’s that Deadly Curiosities is packed with people who Martin keeps dropping hints are sensitive to magic, but never follows through on that; just one of many trails laid down by the book and never followed up on.
It’s here that the book begins to fall apart. While the core plot is an interesting one that would sustain a well-paced book of this length, Deadly Curiosities buries it under other things. The overuse of Cassidy’s abilities slows the pace and ties the story in knots, Martin both wanting to showcase it and also scrabbling to avoid it leading to the conclusion of the novel; and the role a series of dei ex machinae play in the story make it stumble and stutter rather. Similarly, Cassidy’s repeated “I’ll remember to do this later” are almost all followed by not doing them, while other things just seem to drift off into the aether, never actually paying off, especially a repeated use of foreshadowing lines that never pay off, taking away all the power of foreshadowing in the novel.
The writing drains power from more than just the overuse of non-foreshadowing; Deadly Curiosities has its moments, but on the whole is a messy, repetitious and confused novel to read. Facts come up and vanish before being repeated as if for the first time; the story keeps grinding to a halt for another strangely impersonal and unemotional vision from Cassidy; coincidence is relied on far too often. Even scenes that really shouldn’t cause the novel to slow make the reader pause, as Martin writes fight scenes that from a number of standpoints are inconsistent or nonsensical; indeed, this inability to write fights becomes more absurd as the novel continues with Martin dropping them in randomly and for no good effect.
Sadly, Deadly Curiosities had a great potential to be an excellent novel which in reality let itself down; Gail Z. Martin had a great kernel and buried it under dross.
DoI: Review based on a pre-publication ARC solicited from the publisher, Solaris. Deadly Curiosities is out third of July.