BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

b2ap3_thumbnail_feximal.jpgTitle: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal
Publisher: Samhain
Author: KJ Charles
Pages: 303 pp
Price: $4.99

Victorian England. The masses delude themselves into believing that they live in a world of science and rationality. A few know better. They know that there is a world beneath the world, a place of ghosts and monsters and mad occultists and strange spirits. These few — among them Simon Feximal and Robert Caldwell — struggle to defend the innocent (living and dead) against those who would exploit them, abuse them, and utterly destroy them ….

I was first introduced to Feximal and Caldwell in Remnant, a free e-novella which Charles co-wrote with Jordan L Hawk. I loved it, even though it alluded to characters and events with which I was unfamiliar. I then downloaded the free short story, Butterflies. When I learned that Charles was releasing a novel centered around Feximal and Caldwell, I immediately pre-ordered it and than impatiently waited for the release date.

First caveat: the book is not what I expected. Second caveat: I totally loved it anyway.

The Secret Casebook is less a novel then it is a series of interlinked short stories. Caldwell narrates their adventures, Watson-like, over the course of some twenty-odd years. From their first meeting when Caldwell asks Feximal to rid his ancestral home of a lustful spirit; to their reluctant partnership involving deadly butterflies; through their realization that they were deeply in love and could not be parted (despite the danger of being outed); to their encounter with London’s subterranean dea civitas, the Rat Queen; to Caldwell taking on a tremendous and painful burden to save Feximal’s life; to their final (official) mission in the trenches of the first World War. Each story builds on the previous tale, an element here and there carrying through, weaving an epic of love, passion, loyalty, betrayal, heartache, and danger.

I love these characters. Brusque, wounded Feximal. Loyal, curious Caldwell. Theodosia Kay, Feximal’s adoptive sister, whose gift for divination is a painful, but useful, curse. Jo, the transgender seer, and hir ragamuffin tag-a-long, Sam. The mysterious Mrs. Phan, the only female member of the occultists club. And many others.

I admit it: I was tearing up by the end.

Even better, Charles sprinkles The Secret Casebook with “real” Victorian Age characters. Among them are Dr. Silence, Thomas Carnacki, Dr. Nikola, and a certain over-weight member of The Diogenes Club. (He's smarter than his younger brother, you know.)

Since this collection covers more than twenty years in only a couple hundred pages, it leaves plenty of room for Charles to write more stories about Feximal and Caldwell in the future. She alludes to some of those adventures here; tantalizing hints (lavender-scented ghosts??) which have me wanting more. [Sadly, Charles announced that she does not plan to write more Feximal and Caldwell tales, but there are stories about Jo and Sam in the works.]

So go download The Secret Casebook right now. Read it. Get a bit weepy.

Highly recommended to fans of Jordan L. Hawk, Jordan Castillo Price, and R.W. Day.

[Note: a different version of this review appeared in the Summer Solstice 2015 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer.] 


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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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