The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle

(2005-03-06)

Vanishings, disappearances, missing people and the Sidhe, or fairy folk - these things comprise the backdrop for Lisa Tuttle's engrossing and magically fine novel, The Mysteries. In Tuttle's novel, our protagonist is Ian Kennedy, an American private investigator living in London. Laura Lensky, comes to Ian in search of her missing daughter Peri, a seemingly happy girl, with a boyfriend who loves her. In general, Peri had a good life with good prospects. As Ian learns of the events of surrounding Periís disappearance, he begins to recount some of his past cases, and particularly his first case, which brought him to the UK.

The novel opens as Ian Kennedy watches his father vanish, seemingly into thin air. This sets the mood for the novel, as random vanishings pepper the flavor of the book, shifting from Ian's first person narrative to accounts of mysterious disappearances occurring throughout the history of Ian's adopted country of the United Kingdom. This is one of the more stimulating structural techniques Lisa Tuttle employs throughout the novel: the back-and-forth flow of the narrative. I think this is effective in conveying, perhaps, the thought process of Ian as he brings both his knowledge and his experience together as he searches for Peri. I felt this switching narratives, at times, was a little jarring, but as the novel progressed, it worked well. It was almost as if Tuttle puts the reader in Kennedy's head, from what he is thinking and remembering to the chapters where he is "telling" the story. With each flashback, the why and how of Periís disappearance comes more into focus.

In many ways, this is a novel of discovery - Ian is introduced during an event in his young life, which sets the tone for the novel and his later occupation. Ian is then shown in the midst of a missing person case while being hired by Laura to find her daughter Peri. As Ian discovers the layers of magick surrounding Periís disappearance, we the reader discover more of Ianís background and how he came to be an American in London. In turn, we learn more of the many disappearances that have occurred throughout the history. One of the keys to discovering Periís whereabouts is her boyfriend Hugh, perhaps the most enigmatic of the characters in the novel. Hugh is a filmmaker and despite his love for Peri and the fact that Hugh is making a film about Peri, he has come to grips with Peri's "decision" to leave him and moved onto another girlfriend. Hugh comes across as a very conflicted character, torn between his head and his heart, he loves Peri but doesnít want to objectify her as something he owns, he sees her as a free person able to chose her own fate. Perhaps because he is an artist, Hugh is more open to seeing magickal occurrences, and seeing things from the Otherworld of the Sidhe that most people canít and will not. As the novel progresses, Tuttleís skills in character building are on display, the three main characters, Ian, Laura and Hugh each grow in their own way and come to a better understanding of the world.

This novel will probably draw comparisons to some recent novels touching upon similar themes. The first one, in my mind, is Neil Gaimanís Neverhwhere. Not that Tuttleís novel is a light story by any means, it still reminded me a Gaimanís, though a bit less sinister. Another more recent novel, which The Mysteries will no likely be weighed against, is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. On one hand I don't think it is exactly fair to compare the two novels, Clarkeís novel had much more promotion behind it, with glowing praise from the earlier referenced Neil Gaiman, it's own dedicated Web site and the fact that Jonathan Strange launched an entire imprint. On the other, it isnít fair to Clarke to compare the two novels since Tuttle is a more experienced writer, who, with the publication of The Mysteries has employed similar themes; however, much more effectively. Tuttle's writing is subtler, and the story is, obviously with a page count difference of nearly 500 pages, much more tightly told. I don't think Tuttle was aiming to tell an epic story in the vein that Clarke did, but what she did was tell a perfectly solid story, from beginning to end with not a word wasted. This was a wonderful novel, with engaging characters, subtle magicks, and an ending that leaves room for more stories of Ian Kennedy and his Mysteries. I would recommend the novel to those who have enjoyed the aforementioned Neverwhere, as well as novels of Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll and Graham Joyce.

© 2005 Rob H. Bedford

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