Spunky 14-year-old Pin, the heroine of this atmospheric crime novel from Shirley Jackson Award–winner Hand (Hard Light) set in early 20th-century Chicago, struggles to survive with her single mother, the fortune-teller at the Riverview Amusement Park, whose patrons try to temporarily forget such grim realities as grime-belching industrial furnaces, squalid tenements, and murderous gangs. The scrawny Pin disguises herself as a boy both for safety and to give her the freedom to earn money running errands. Her favorite is delivering drugs from Max, the park’s “She-Male,” to customers at the Essanay movie studio, a world that fascinates her. But darker forces intrude when the teen, who finds passing as a boy liberating, discovers a murdered girl inside the Hell Gate ride. Her efforts to track down the killer, with the help of “dingbatty” real-life outsider artist Henry Darger, put her in peril. Though Hand’s attempts to establish multiple viable suspects, all with disturbing, if confusing, psychological histories, muddy the narrative, this remains a phantasmagoric time trip tailor-made for fans of The Devil in the White City. Agent: Martha Millard, Martha Millard Literary. (Oct.)
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"Hand--whose masterly oeuvre ranges from the eerie to the horrific, post-punk to magic--delivers another brilliant mystery.... Wonderfully imaginative and richly delivered."—Ivy Pochoda, New York Times Book Review
"Curious Toys is itself like a carnival ride: alternatively dazzling and terrifying, disorienting and marvelous."—Amy Stewart, The Washington Post
"Brilliant, bustling . . . While Hand paces her mystery with classic precision, the real reward of Curious Toys lies in its richly textured panorama of Chicago during a crucial period of change, and in its vivid characters."—Gary Wolfe, Chicago Tribune
"Deliciously creepy . . . Atmospheric . . . Hand's gripping plot mines the era's vagaries with aplomb."—Associated Press
"[Pin] is a remarkable young sleuth. . . . Curious Toys is a thriller to be savored-tough, funny, strange, and revelatory."—Michael Berry, Portland Press Herald
"This book contains a rare kind of perfection: Elizabeth Hand's rough, observant magic draws into its circle great historical accuracy, a cross-dressing central protagonist, a wonderfully tender portrait of the great Outsider Artist Henry Darger, a vibrant thriller plot, reflections on gender and its place in civic order, a helpful Ben Hecht, and one of the greatest climactic drop-the-mic moments I've ever read -- and does all this while patiently setting into place the warm emotional armatures that make Curious Toys so moving."—Peter Straub
"A well-crafted and deliciously unsettling period thriller."—Booklist (starred review)
"Hand is a mage of the page.... [Curious Toys] will enchant those who like tough-girl protagonists and antiheroes, as well as fans of historical crime fiction."—Library Journal (starred review)
"Curious Toys is wonderful! I stayed up late two nights in a row, transported. It will be catnip for readers who love Chicago, circuses, cross-dressers, and early cinema."
—Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time-Traveler's Wife
"[Hand] crafts a gritty and winsome character whose sheer determination to catch a murderer makes this mystery novel whiz by."—WBUR
"This atmospheric novel will transport you to a world you've never imagined before."
"Richly imaginative and psychologically complex."—Kirkus Reviews
"An atmospheric crime novel... A phantasmagoric time trip tailor-made for fans of The Devil in the White City."—Publishers Weekly
"Glittering and scruffy as its carnival setting, with the deep gravity hold of a rollercoaster."—Lauren Beukes, internationally acclaimed author of The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters
"The latest novel from genre-crossing master storyteller Elizabeth Hand journeys from thriller territory straight into the heart of horror . . . A richly layered study of horror and sin and fantasy and reality, all in a peculiarly American vein. And it's scary as hell."—Chicago Review of Books
Two years ago, Pin's mother put her in boy's clothes so she would be "safe." Now 14 and still in disguise, Pin lives with her fortune-teller mother on the edge of Chicago's Riverview Amusement Park. She hangs out with a gang of boys and runs reefers from a sideshow performer to a screenwriter at Essanay movie studios. During the hot summer of 1915, she witnesses a man and a young girl enter the Hell Gate ride—but only he exits. Pin questions what she sees, but another observer, "batty" outsider artist Henry Darger, saw the same thing. Initially wary, the two work together to catch a twisted killer. Genre-spanning, award-winning Hand ("Cass Neary" series) once again works the dark side of the street, writing from multiple points of view and skillfully misdirecting readers' attention. The historical details are fantastic, as are several cameos by real-life figures besides Darger. When readers reach the end of this thrilling adventure, they'll see how every choice has been perfectly made. VERDICT Hand is a mage of the page. The gritty mise-en-scène and realistically portrayed characters in her novel will enchant those who like tough-girl protagonists and antiheroes, as well as fans of historical crime fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/19.]—Liz French, Library Journal
Chicago, 1915: In the midst of a steamy summer, a rash of child murders terrifies the city in Hand's (Hard Light, 2016, etc.) latest.
After her younger sister went missing, 14-year-old Pin's mother, the carnival fortuneteller, told her to dress like a boy, so now she runs free through the park, delivering drugs, sneaking into rides, and hoping for a chance to see Glory, a local movie actress. But most of all she enjoys the chance to observe the chaotic scene of the carnival. One day, she notices a man and a young girl in line for the Hell Gate, a notorious "love boat" ride—only the man emerges alone from the other side of the tunnel. Girls go missing all the time in Chicago, but Pin's suspicions are piqued, and when she discovers the girl's naked body floating in the waters of the ride, all hell breaks loose. As the carnival policeman, Francis Bacon, conducts an investigation along with the local cops, Pin encounters help of her own in the form of Henry Darger, clearly a fictionalized version of the real reclusive artist. Here, he is a strange and troubled man who lives at the hospital and calls himself a "general of the Gemini," purporting to protect and rescue girls in trouble. To call the novel and its characters "colorful" is a terrific understatement. A carnival setting immediately allows for a higher threshold of the bizarre, but Hand skillfully develops each character beyond mere oddity or empty sensation. Even Charlie Chaplin gets a cameo, though it's far from flattering. Dr. H.H. Holmes is a ghostly presence within the novel, invoked by several characters; this comparison to another Chicago murderer serves to deepen context. While Henry and his occasional moments of narration take a little getting used to, the wordplay and imagination that qualify his chapters become more and more appealing. Most of all, Pin is an engaging, courageous heroine, and her musings on gender identity are both poignant and relevant.
Richly imaginative and psychologically complex.