Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection by Gail Z. Martin
I haven’t read any of Gail Z. Martin’s DEADLY CURIOSITIES novels, but Tantor Audio sent me Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection (2016) and I thought it’d be a good introduction to the series.
The premise reminds me of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, which stars a young woman, Lily Ivory, who gets vibes from used garments. She has a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and, because of her knack, gets pulled into all sorts of mysteries which she then solves. The San Francisco setting features prominently in the tales, as do a few people in Lily’s orbit, such as the friends who help her run the shop.
Similarly, DEADLY CURIOSITIES features a young woman, Cassidy Kincaide, who gets vibes from old objects, runs a vintage shop in Charleston, and has a few friends who help her solve Charleston’s mysteries. One of these is her employee, Teag, a graduate school dropout, and the other is Sorren, an ancient vampire who was tasked long ago to find and destroy the kinds of evil items that sometimes end up in Cassidy’s shop.
Here are the stories you’ll find in Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection.
“Buttons” — Cassidy encounters some Civil War buttons that emanate darkness to those who are sensitive enough to feel it. Cassidy and her friends must track down the source of the darkness and extinguish it before it can do any more damage.
“The Restless Dead” — An old Singer sewing machine is found in a sinkhole near a deserted shopping mall in Charleston. When Cassidy traces its history, she discovers that it was used in a factory that “employed” indentured Irish servants and locked them in the shop during a hurricane.
“Retribution” — When an antique silver flask and poker set give Cassidy the willies, she tracks their history to a 1920’s hotel which was the setting of several murders.
“Wicked Dreams” — It looks like a serial killer is on the loose in Charleston’s King Street market. All of the murders seem tied to jewelry that one of the merchants made from a typewriter she bought at the city’s police auction.
“Collector” — A woman, whose world-travelling aunt recently died, asks Cassidy to remove some of the antiques from her aunt’s house. When Cassidy arrives, she realizes there’s an oppression over the house that causes suicidal feelings.
“Bad Memories” — A professional ghost hunter asks Cassidy to investigate something weird going on at Charleston’s new World War I exhibit. It seems to be an outbreak of ghosts and ghouls that the pro can’t handle by himself.
“Shadow Garden” — When a woman brings in a garden gnome statue that she accuses of eating her cat, Cassidy and friends get involved in some haunted goings-on at a garden restoration project.
“Spook House” — When a haunted house attraction becomes a real haunted house with a magic mirror, Cassidy and Teag are called in to deal with evil creatures such as some creepy little zombie dolls.
“Vanities” — Here the stories switch focus. Instead of starring Cassidy and Teag, Sorren, the very old vampire, is the protagonist. This one gives us his backstory, how he was a jewel thief in Antwerp who was turned into a vampire. It explains how he got involved with Cassidy’s shop in the modern stories. In “Vanities” and the next two stories, Sorren is working with Dietger, a human man who runs an antique and curiosities shop similar to Cassidy’s shop.
“The Wild Hunt” — A nun asks for Sorren and Dietger’s help because a new relic their church was given by a travelling monk may be cursed.
“Dark Legacy” — Sorren and Dietger visit Sorren’s new home and discover the treasures his maker left him. Then they deal with a cursed chalice.
Gail Z. Martin’s writing style is clean and efficient — it works well in the short story format. The characters are pleasant, as is the dialogue, and the stories are nicely-paced, too.
However, they’re formulaic. It’s probably best not to read them back-to-back, as I did, because the formula become obvious. For the nine stories involving Cassidy and Teag, the pattern is the same each time: the same backstory about who Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren are and what their shop does (same few sentences used every time), someone approaches them for help, the discovery of a cursed object, then they go to engage with an evil entity and defeat it and its minions in a magical battle.
Cassidy and Teag don’t develop over the stories — they are described exactly the same way every time with just a couple of sentences of backstory about who they are and what they like. I’d hope that if I was introducing myself nine different times, I could think of more to say about myself than the same two or three sentences over and over. This shallowness is probably fine for a series of short stories; I’ll assume the novels are better at character development. In fact, I’d be interested in reading one of them because I think the issues I’ve mentioned about the stories might not be present in the novels.
Fans of the DEADLY CURIOSITIES novels will enjoy this collection. I doubt that they’ll learn anything new about Cassidy and Teag, but the backstory on Sorren will probably be informative.
I listened to the audio version produced by Tantor Audio and read by Amanda Ronconi who does a wonderful job with the narration. It’s 15 hours long.