“Jess Kidd’s stories are so magical, she should be a genre all to herself . . . Things in Jars is exquisite. Perfect storytelling.”
– Joanna Cannon, author of The Trouble With Goats and Sheep
London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.
As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fanatical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showmen. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment. The public love a spectacle and Christabel may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen.
Things in Jars captures a time when the world was obsessed with the unusual, from natural anomalies and medical curiosities to those with the first tattoos. The drive for a better understanding of the human body and to publicise the exotic fuelled an abuse of power, belief in ownership and disrespect for human rights.
By showing the daring and experimental hidden lives lived by both the poor and wealthy of the time, Jess works to explode the myths of straight-laced Victorian society typically painted by documentaries and films.
Blending elements of the supernatural and figures from Celtic folklore, Things in Jars embodies the Celtic belief that all beings should be respected as existing on one level, regardless of gender, race, class, appearance or whether they are alive or dead.
Women of the time were prevented an advanced education and social mobility, particularly those who were married or part of the middle and upper classes. Things in Jars highlights the ways women overcame these social restrictions by impersonating men to be able to move freely in society or study subjects such as medicine, wearing mourning attire or choosing not to marry into wealthy families to retain their freedom.
Jess Kidd was brought up in London as part of a large family from County Mayo and has been praised for her original fictional voice. Her first novel, Himself, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in 2016 and she was the winner of the Costa Short Story Award in the same year. In 2017, Himself was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. Her second novel, The Hoarder, a tale of a lonely care worker and her cranky client set in West London, is currently being adapted for a 3-part series by the BBC and Scott Free. Both books were BBC Radio 2 Book Club picks.
Photo of Jess Kidd © Travis & McBride