The Somnambulist And The Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle

The SomnambulistMiss Lane – first name to be discovered – is looking for a job. For many years, she worked for the mysterious Miss X in the psychic community, until she discovered that her friend was a fraud. She arrives in London and takes up a peculiar job offer – a lady detective, partnering the slightly peculiar Jasper Jesperson.

The life of a detective is not as glamourous as might be expected, so they start hitting up old contacts for potential cases, only to pick up two. One concerns a man who has suddenly started sleepwalking. The other concerns a number of disappearing psychics. The last thing they expect is that the two cases might be linked. No, actually, the last thing they expect is the dangerous villain who not just threatens their lives, but many, many others…

Well, this is a bit of an odd one. I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I obtained a review copy from Netgalley, and it’s pretty difficult to review in a spoiler-free way. You see, there’s an over-arching question throughout the story – are psychic phenomenon real? Are you reading a tale where the early impossibilities are going to be explained rationally a la John Dickson Carr or a story of the type of London Falling (only set in the past)? Certainly early on, it leans in one direction and then later in the other, but the confirmation comes far enough into the book to be well past my cut-off for potential spoilers. If you’re curious enough to find out before reading, I’m sure other reviews will be less careful about it.

So, I’ll try and dance around the issue. It starts off promisingly, with Miss Lane and Jepherson coming across nicely in a manner reminiscent of Watson and Holmes (the Elementary version). The book is almost all from Miss Lane’s point of view, with a few later sections from Jepherson’s notes (due to an enforced separation between the leads). The characters are nicely developed, in particular Miss Lane, and the author has a good handle on psychic phenomenon of the time.

The tale isn’t that much of a mystery though, more of an adventure. The villain is clear from an early point, and an attempt at misdirection really doesn’t work – although to be fair, nobody really falls for it. And there are sections when the pace drags – it takes a while to get going and once the leads separate, some of those sections seem to tread water.

So, overall, this is something different and well worth taking a look at. It’s not going to be to every mystery fan’s taste – to be honest, I’m still not sure if it was to mine. But if you want a change from the standard mystery tale, this is Worth A Look.

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8 comments

  1. ” If you’re curious enough to find out before reading, I’m sure other reviews will be less careful about it.”
    Yes, there are reviews which reveal this aspect !

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      • Well, it has some supernatural elements, but it also works as a traditional mystery. I don’t think the plot is particularly original, but Doyle and Wilde make for a fun mismatched detective-duo. One clever element is the ghost of Sherlock Holmes appearing to mock his creator Doyle and occasionally giving him advice. It’s the first in a series.

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  2. If you knew that Tuttle is primarily a science fiction and fantasy writer maybe you would have been better prepared for the “oddness.” Is that mentioned anyway on the book or the promotional material? Maybe the publishers assumed she’s well known enough not to mention it. I’m always interested in a writer crosses genres so to speak. I’d be interested in checking out this one. Thanks for the review with all its teasing vagueness.

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