The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway: It’s hard to believe in Cherry

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The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper fantasy book reviewsThe Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper

I picked up The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway (2013) because it was free at Audible a while back. It’s the prequel to Karina Cooper’s ST. CROIX CHRONICLES which is set in Victorian London and begins with the novel Tarnished. In The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, we meet Cherry St. Croix, an opium-addicted tomboyish teenage orphan who lives with a wealthy benefactor and sneaks out at night to earn money to support her addiction. She does this by being a “collector,” which is something like a bounty hunter.

This is the story of her first collection attempt. She must bring in a Mr. Strangeway, who is wanted for his various debts. As she tracks him down, she has to hang out in the sooty seedy parts of London where she gets involved with many disreputable characters such as terrorists, traitors, and a man who is exploiting child laborers.

Karina Cooper does a good job with the atmosphere. The upper class abodes in her Victorian London seem proper and rigid while the “stews” feel grimy and sordid. Cherry’s voice is a little over-done, sometimes giving the impression that Cooper is trying too hard to make Cherry sound Victorian. I was not always convinced.

My biggest issue with Cherry, though, is that she’s difficult to believe in. She’s a small 15 year old girl with an opium addiction who is approaching and attempting to “bring in” adult men with criminal records. Without a gun. This is really hard to believe. Also, she tells us that she is a voracious reader, she loves to learn and study, and that she’s highly motivated to have a lucrative career. This does not sound like a person with an opium addiction. Also, how is it that she’s out and about at night, but awake for her lessons during the day, all (again) with that addiction? This addiction seems less of a real aspect of Cherry’s situation and more like something to give her a motive for taking on interesting dodgy jobs, or perhaps something to give her character a tantalizing shade of darkness. I didn’t believe it.

But The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway is a prequel novella, so I’m willing to give Cherry a second chance in Tarnished. I hope I’ll find her more plausible and admirable… especially since I already own some of the other titles in the ST. CROIX CHRONICLES series.

The audio version of The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway is 3.5 hours long and performed quite nicely by Christine Rendel.

Published in 2013. A St. Croix Chronicles novella. Although I have only been part of Society for two years, I am already desperate to escape its confines and eager for adventure. The world my deceased parents have left me is nothing more than a gilded prison, and I will do anything to escape the boredom, even become a collector of bounties. My name is Cherry St. Croix, and I may be young, but I am old enough to know when I am in over my head. My first collection seemed easy: Mr. Strangeway’s debts have come due, and the purse for his capture is hefty. Yet the wastrel remains one step ahead of me, and my efforts are hampered by another collector after the same coin. What’s more, a simple hunt becomes the forefront of a conspiracy that leads me on a chase through London’s low-class streets. Not only does my pride demand success, but the well-being of many rests upon the choices I make—failure is not an outcome I can live with.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. April /

    Didn’t work for me either when I attempted to read the first book in the series.

    • For the same reason, April?

      • April /

        Yes plus the fact that I really don’t like the idea of a protagonist addicted to that kind of thing. Coffee? No problem. But I like my protagonists to be likeable and she was but wasn’t because of the opium. So I was disinclined to find her believable or relatable.

  2. This is a shame, because it does sound like the backgrounds are well-described and evoked here.

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