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.
St. Croix Chronicles — (2012-2015) Publisher: My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They’ve no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves… and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London’s streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog. Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his — for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company… the other might just see me dead.