Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 June 2021 from Isis Audio
Listening Time: 10hrs 18mins
My thanks to Isis Audio and Danielle at The Reading Closet for the review copy of Strange Tricks.
Secretly Rosie Strange has always thought herself a little bit more interesting than most people – the legacy her family has bequeathed her is definitely so, she’s long believed. But then life takes a peculiar turn when the Strange legacy turns out not just to be the Essex Witch Museum, but perhaps some otherworldly gifts that Rosie finds difficult to fathom. Meanwhile Sam Stone, Rosie’s curator, is oddly distracted as breadcrumb clues into what happened to his missing younger brother and other abducted boys from the past are poised to lead him and Rosie deep into a dark wood where there lurks something far scarier than Hansel and Gretel’s witch…
I often find myself thinking that, for all that it is the words that matter; an audio book can be made or broken by its narrator. Fortunately, in this case, Julia Barrie is exactly the narrator I would have chosen and her spirited tempo, unashamed Essex vocals and terrific inflection make this book shine that little bit brighter.
I hadn’t read any of the previous books in the series and though I think that definitely would help with some backstory, it wasn’t hard to pick up from a standing start.
Rosie Strange is such a great character. A benefit fraud investigator, she is irrepressibly bubbly, with an inquiring mind and an active libido. She inherited the Essex Witch Museum from her grandfather and what drives her is the need to understand what happened to her mother, Celeste, who died when Rosie was just a baby. Rosie has Celeste’s diary and the book is interspersed with chapters from that, looking back into the past and giving us some insight into Celeste’s past.
The Essex Witch Museum itself is a little magical and mysterious characters flit through it without ever quite announcing their arrival or departure.
Rosie Strange isn’t really a believer in in ghosts or witches or magic yet the museum undoubtedly holds secrets which Rosie is clearly getting used to by now. I really want to find out more about MI6’s Occult Bureau and how Rosie’s family is connected to it and its Chief, Monty Walker.
Sam Stone is the museum curator and he forms the other half of this investigative team. Rosie is clearly attracted to him but also finds him immensely irritating at times. Rosie is a brilliant character. You can’t help but take to her bubbly, slightly gobby personality with a brilliant dry wit thrown in – and she’s pretty fearless when it comes to tracking down wrongdoers.
In this story, Rosie and Sam are called to the North of England, tracking down missing boys and encountering a medium who claims some knowledge. But it is Sam whose story is paramount in this book. We learn a lot about his family and meet one of his relatives. It seems that we, as readers, are beginning to understand more about Sam at the same time as Rosie, though in the longer term it is clear that it is Rosie’s history that permeates the series.
Just as we are getting to grips with Rosie, the gobby and sceptical Essex girl, (though to be clear, Rosie is no stereotype), the book takes on a much darker tone and this moves from a light hearted and flirtatious feel-good narrative to have a much darker and more serious impact which is altogether more creepy and evil than the early chapters. Altogether this is a darker read than I originally anticipated and I liked that about it.
There’s such a lot going on with all these characters that it makes you yearn to know more of the backstory and to better understand them, though there’s sufficient drive and motivation in this book to carry the story through effortlessly.
Verdict: This is a series I really want to get to know. The characters are vivid, complex and fascinating. The premise is inventive and interesting and I just love the whole idea of the Essex Witch Museum being taken on by a Benefits Fraud investigator! This book may not be the best entry point to the series, but it has certainly whetted my appetite for a lot more! Kudos to Julie Barrie for an immaculate performance.
Before embarking on a career in education, Syd worked extensively in the publishing industry, fronting Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. She was the founding editor of Level 4, an arts and culture magazine, and is co-creator of Super Strumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes. Syd has also been a go go dancer, backing singer, subbuteo maker, children’s entertainer and performance poet, She now works for Metal Culture, an arts organisation, promoting arts and cultural events and developing literature programmes. Syd is an out and proud Essex Girl and is lucky enough to live in that county where she spends her free time excavating old myths and listening out for things that go bump in the night.
Photo (c) Amy Freeborn
After graduating from Bristol University and joining The Bristol Old Vic Julia Barrie has worked extensively in Theatre; in rep, touring both nationally and internationally, as a member of the RSC, at the Old Vic and Royal Court and in the West End at The Duke of York’s and the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For BBC Radio she recorded Anthony Shaffer’s Widow’s Weeds and her TV and film credits include Prisoners’ Wives, The Commander, Doctors, Close Relations, Our Friends in the North, Out of Bounds, Ghost in the Machine and Five Greedy Bankers.