Author: Jess Faraday
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Pages/Word Count: 99 Pages
At a Glance: Clever, clever, clever!
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Billiwack, California, 1884. When translator Rosetta Stein comes across her rival, Bartholomew Vincent, under attack by weird, raven-headed man-beasts behind the infamous Puckered Rosebud Gentleman’s Club, she senses opportunity. She rescues him in exchange for a crack at the commission he stole from under her nose—a strangely inscribed artifact found by Big Sur bigwig George Taylor Granville in the Santa Lucia mountains. Misfortune has stalked Vincent from the moment he took on the project, and he’s only too happy to share it. In the meantime, a lady marshal has come to Billiwack, investigating rumors of strange, unlicensed weapons, and she can’t seem to decide if she’d rather kiss Rosetta or arrest her. And Vincent is suffering romantic complications of his own, in the forms of Rosetta’s charming layabout brother, and an amorous professor who won’t take God, no! for an answer.
Review: Clever. Clever, clever, clever! That’s almost all I can say about Jess Faraday’s The Strange Case of the Big Sur Benefactor, but…of course you know there’s more.
Let’s start with the title of the book, which seems to play on the original title of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and though there isn’t a Dr. Jekyll in the book, there is a Dr. Hyde, and this particular doctor is the source-by-proxy of some issues for our characters in this novella.
The Strange Case of the Big Sur Benefactor is categorized as lesbian fiction, and, indeed, the romance that plays alongside the mystery in this novel focuses on Rosetta Stein (a cheeky play on the Rosetta Stone, yes?) and Marshal Erin St. George, who believes Miss Stein may be up to some illegal activities aimed at the US government. There is also a secondary couple, however, in Bartholomew Vincent (Rosetta’s chief academic rival) and her brother Franklin Stein (please, tell me you see the humor in that one), who do enjoy each other’s company off page–physically, if not altogether romantically.
The supernatural mystery in the story is packed tight with tension and owes the quite human vices of greed and rivalry to its source. There are more shrewd elements woven into the plot as well—the butler Baskerville being a particularly touching, though admittedly minor addition to the cast of characters. There really isn’t a single thing I disliked about this book.
One of the things touched on briefly and contrasted thoughtfully in the book is the position of gay men and lesbian women in history. There were no laws on the books that made two women loving each other illegal at the time this story is set (or ever, to my knowledge)—two women could live together all their adult lives and merely be thought of as spinsters, a perfectly acceptable living arrangement—but there being more social advantages for men during this time: at their clubs, in pubs, anywhere a single woman of a certain breeding and comportment wouldn’t have been permitted or accepted, which made it somewhat easier for a gay man to meet like-minded gentlemen. What Jess Faraday does in the characters of Rosetta and Franklin, then, is to flip their stereotypical roles—Franklin is the flibbertigibbet in this story, if you will, while Rosetta pursues an academic career not inherently accepted as appropriate for a woman, and I love the way the siblings are juxtaposed.
Faraday is a brilliant wordsmith who knows her way around the crafting of historical fiction, understanding where the balance exists between too much detail and not enough, firmly placing her readers in the time and place her stories are set without bogging down the flow of the storyline. What I hadn’t experienced yet from this author, in my reading of her work, is the paranormal element she’s woven into this novella, and I must say it’s just earned her a spot on my list of favorite historical paranormal fiction authors.
The Strange Case of the Big Sur Benefactor is another big win in this author’s repertoire.
You can buy The Strange Case of the Big Sur Benefactor here: