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This is the sixth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and probably my favourite one so far. In essence, our feminist, intrepid sleuth is bored, and goes undercover at the Farrell’s Circus, where she has friends, to try and find out who is trying to sabotage the circus, and who murdered Mr Christopher, one of the acts. Phryne, so usually able to hold her own in almost any situation, finds herself out of her depth and lacking in friendship. Not to mention that she is not able to easily call on her friends and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (although Jack does take a bigger role in this book than in previous adventures). Without her usual back-up she has to rely on her own wits, but anyone who is familiar with the series knows that she has plenty of those!

Interestingly, having read other reviews of this book, it seems that people who have enjoyed previous novels in the series have been somewhat disappointed in this one. For me it is the other way around; the last few novels have been underwhelming for me, but this one was much more enjoyable. The mystery itself was not as enjoyable as Phryne’s experience of circus life. Here we meet a different Phryne – going by the name Fern, she is vulnerable, unhappy and an outsider among the circus folk, and I did enjoy reading about that. The mystery itself was an intriguing one although I felt that the solving of it was rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory – interestingly I remember thinking the same about the television adaptation of this particular book. I liked the colour, flamboyance and excitement of the circus atmosphere though, and the story whipped by quickly enough I also loved the young policeman Tommy Harris – I wish he had been a character in the television series.

Overall, if you are a fan of this series, for my money this is one of the best so far.

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Its 1853 and something nasty is in the air in Crawditch, London.  A series of grisly murders coincides with the arrival of Dr Marvello’s Traveling Circus, which is the business run own by Cornelius Quaint, ringmaster and conjuror extraordinaire. Suspicious immediately falls upon the circus performers, and their strongman Prometheus finds himself wrongly incarcerated for the crimes. Quaint, with the help of a number of his performers and the guidance of his good friend Madame Destine sets out to clear Prometheus’s name – but before long he realises that the murders are just the tip of the iceberg concerning some very dodgy dealings occurring in the criminal fraternity.  And as the mystery unfolds, it becomes clear that the events are related to Cornelius’s own history.  Will he be able to prove his friend’s innocence…and will he manage to escape with his own life?

This is a rip-roaring adventure story, populated with an eccentric cast of characters. Cornelius is a great main character, who has plenty of cunning, an acute sense of humour and a quick intelligence – all of which he needs to employ to navigate his way through several deadly situations.

More of an adventure story than a mystery, the tale twists and turns, so that the reader is often caught unaware by the events that take place.  The main characters are well drawn, so that I did feel that I got to know them.  Some of the villains are a little cartoony, but that’s fine and all adds to the atmosphere of fun and excitement.  My favourite character was probably Cornelius’s loyal valet, Butter, and I would have liked to have learned more about him.  I also particularly liked one of the police officers investigating the murders – Horace Berry, who was perhaps the most conventional character in the whole story.

This is the first story in a series (of three books, apparently), and I hope that the further instalments of Quaint’s life and adventures are as much fun to read as this one.  It’s not completely accurate on some historical details (occasionally using descriptive words and terms that were not around at the time that the book is set), but that hardly matters – after all, this is a romp, not a study of the period.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I don’t think the reader is expected to do so either.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book – it left me with a smile on my face.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Narrated by a 90-something man, who remembers his days on a circus from Chicago during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this is a gripping and compelling tale.

Jacob Jankowski is a recently orphaned young man, who on a whim, joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus, and becomes the show veterinarian. Jacob recalls how he fell in love with the beautiful equestrian performer Marlena, and how he struggled to cope with Marlena’s charismatic but evil husband.He also talks about Rosie, an elephant who seemed untrainable and unintelligent, before Jacob himself discovered the way to connect with her.

I loved this book – the harsh but colourful realities of being part of a travelling circus are vividly brought to life here, and it is clear that the book has been meticulously researched.  Apart from the four main characters (Jacob, Marlena, August and indeed Rosie the elephant), there is a wonderful cast of supporting characters, each of whom is totally believable.

This novel combines beautiful description, while at the same time, keeping the plot moving forward at a rapid pace, and I never found myself bored.  In fact I found myself doing what I always do when I love a book – checking ahead to see if I can squeeze in just a few more pages before I really really have to put the book down.  I became interested in the characters’ lives and truly wanted to know how things turned out.

This wonderful novel comes highly recommended – I will definitely be seeking more books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Interesting idea, and this started off well, but tailed off towards the end, and I found the ending disappointing.

The book starts off with a young man, Jamie, who lives an unremarkable life, unwittingly finding himself (through a series of events seemingly almost beyond his control) auditioning as a clown in the Pilo Family Circus. However, this is no ordinary circus – it is somewhere near to but not on our planet, and is populated by all sorts of evil and frightening creatures. The clowns, which Jamie joins are gleefully murderous and sadistic, and when Jamie finds himself sharing his body with his alter ego, JJ the clown. Unfortunately, JJ is evil and cruel, and Jamie finds himself battling for control of his body and mind.

The real villain of the piece though is Kurt Pilo, one of the owners of the circus, who lacks any kind of conscience or better nature whatsoever.

Can Jamie find a way back to his ordinary life? To be honest – although I enjoyed the first half of the book – by the end I had stopped really caring.

Character development was pretty much non-existent, although I can understand this up to a point, as this book is largely plot driven, rather than anything else.  However, it did seem that the ‘good’ side of Jamie could have been any man, and the ‘bad’ side of him was something of a caricature.

Despite this, the idea behind the novel was enough for me to consider reading another book by this author, if and when he writes one.  

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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