Science fiction and fantasy
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal
by K. J. Charles
The stories owe debts to folklore, history, and 19th century literature. Each chapter is an intriguing, satisfying mystery, whether it's a murder linked to butterflies, the closely guarded secret of an aristocrat, or a puzzle involving London's toshers and their luck. Rival occultists, as well as the establishment, challenge our friends as often as the ghosts they try to track down and put to rest.
Whilst Feximal has a reputation as a ghost hunter, he's far from a member of the establishment. Instead, he sits outside of it, a boxer by hobby and a fighter by inclination. He's a distant and guarded figure in contrast with Robert Caldwell's more open character, and there are definite Holmes and Watson elements in their relationship.
The story of a missing girl that leads them into the world of toshers brings the sights and smells of London into pungent focus. It's visceral, textured writing that really puts the reader in that world, whilst emphasising the class differences that constrain various different characters.
A chapter about the true cost of connecting with ghosts, and of divination magic, builds to an emotionally intense climax. However, a different kind of intensity is introduced with an explicit gay love scene in the first chapter, and through similar ones that appear throughout the book. The author makes clear early on what kind of romance to expect.
Ghosts, society's expectations, malevolent people, and a strict class hierarchy make for an involving narrative with plenty of mysteries to explore, whilst the growing and changing relationships between the main characters link it all together. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is varied enough to excite, intrigue, and move in equal measure.
12th August 2020
If you like this, try:To End All Wars by David Tallerman
Lieutenant Rafael Forrester is not expecting to survive the trenches of the First World War when he is given a perilous mission. But he learns there is more to battle for, when he is shipped back to a country house hospital full of secrets.
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy