Curious Toys
Elizabeth Hand
Mulholland Books 2019

Curious Toys is the latest thriller by Elizabeth Hand; one of Mulholland Books’ favourite writers.

It is 1915. 14 year-old Pin lives with her mother; a fortune teller at Chicago’s popular Riverview Amusement Park. She has the run of the place, and it’s seedy underbelly; even a part time job transporting drugs among the locals. Clad in boys’ clothing, nobody knows that she is a girl, which is more than fine with her. Curious Toys on Kindle

Life at Riverview turns tragic, but attracts the public in droves. Pin was on hand to notice a young girl sailing into Hell Gate, a frightening water ride marked by a looming red devil. The man she is with emerges alone.

Not believed by the carnival staff, the brave young Pin sets out to find the girl. She is assisted by the strange and disturbed individual, Henry Darger; a custodian whose personality, art and writing is no short of bizarre. Why Pin trusts him is anybody’s guess.

Although a quick arrest appeases the public, emerging evidence suggests that a serial killer may be on the loose.

We are teased by red herrings when more than one creepy older male, including the infamous Charlie Chaplin, is fascinated by young girls,. References are also made to H H Holmes, which add to the darkness of the story.

Noisy, exciting and with a constantly changing flow of people, the amusement park is the perfect setting for oddities and things not being what they seem. Replete with a host of unscrupulous characters, and disturbing visuals, Curious Toys is scary and unpredictable. We feel for Pin and the increasingly dangerous predicaments in which she finds herself.

Elizabeth Hand provides a fascinating picture of this dark segment of early Chicago. The plot is straightforward, develops steadily, and becomes more twisted and complicated as you go along. Although the thoughts and inner workings of one character’s mind are sometimes confusing, references to real people and events, and facts merging with fiction make for an interesting read.

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand is dark and disturbing, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

For those of you not familiar with the artist Henry Darger and his complex pathology, I would suggest that you look him up prior to reading Curious Toys. Although his portrayal here is fictionalized, a bit of background information would greatly enhance your experience of this novel.

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