Summary and book reviews of Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

Curious Toys

by Elizabeth Hand

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand X
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Book Summary

An intrepid young woman stalks a murderer through turn-of-the-century Chicago in "this rich, spooky, and atmospheric thriller that will appeal to fans of Henry Darger and Erik Larson alike" (Sarah McCarry).

In the sweltering summer of 1915, Pin, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a carnival fortune-teller, dresses as a boy and joins a teenage gang that roams the famous Riverview amusement park, looking for trouble.

Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy the midway, the park is also host to a ruthless killer who uses the shadows of the dark carnival attractions to conduct his crimes. When Pin sees a man enter the Hell Gate ride with a young girl, and emerge alone, she knows that something horrific has occurred.

The crime will lead her to the iconic outsider artist Henry Darger, a brilliant but seemingly mad man. Together, the two navigate the seedy underbelly of a changing city to uncover a murderer few even know to look for.

Suppose, now, that in a room of watching others coquet with Death, you should toy with her yourself. With infinite ingenuity, the amusement park offers you opportunity.
—Rollin Lynde Hartt, "The Amusement Park,"
Atlantic Monthly, May 1907

We aren't easily intimidated.

And yet we are always frightened
—John Ashbery, Girls on the Run



Chapter 1

AN ACCIDENT, NOT his fault. Wouldn't stop bouncing, set her on fire and policeman choked him, big hands yes your fault, not an accident don't you lie to me. He ran and here he was, keeping her safe, keeping them all safe. Won't happen again he was watching now. It was an accident.



Chapter 2
Riverview Amusement Park, Chicago, August 1915

THERE HE WAS again, smoking a cigar in front of the Infant Incubators. A white man not much taller than Pin—and she was small for her age and looked twelve, rather than fourteen—but too tall to be a midget. Something stealthy and twitchy about him: every few minutes, his head ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With a spunky heroine, her odd but earnest partner, and a dazzling yet dark setting, Hand has created a page-turning tale that perfectly balances fiction with the true history of Riverview. Additionally, the inclusion of themes such as gender identity and the objectification of young girls make Curious Toys a story that is relevant for modern times while still maintaining the feel of early 20th century Chicago...continued

Full Review (635 words).

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

Chicago Review of Books
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.

CrimeReads
From an author who has achieved acclaim for stories of crime, horror, and fantasy, comes a new tale of intrigue and murder that checks off many of my favorite boxes. It's got: lady detectives, old seaside amusement parks, the Gilded Age, silent film, women who disguise as men to embed in male-only groups, women who look out for other women.

New York Times
[A] wonderfully imaginative and richly delivered narrative…While the amusement park setting enables Hand to ramp up the tension with a toolbox of strange and creepy people and places to play with, she never falls prey to pointless sensationalism. This makes Pin's story—her quest to discover the truth, not just about what happened in Hell Gate, but about who she is and how she might find a place in the world—more vivid.

Kirkus Reviews
Pin is an engaging, courageous heroine, and her musings on gender identity are both poignant and relevant. Richly imaginative and psychologically complex.

Publishers Weekly
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

Booklist (starred review)
A well-crafted and deliciously unsettling period thriller.

Library Journal (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.

Author Blurb Lauren Beukes, internationally acclaimed author of The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters
Glittering and scruffy as its carnival setting, with the deep gravity hold of a rollercoaster.

Author Blurb Lori Rader-Day, Edgar Award-nominated author of Under a Dark Sky
Elizabeth Hand crafts a story that is, to borrow her own phrasing late in Curious Toys, 'gruesome but peculiar,' a fun-house mirror of a novel filled with Chicago history and detail. Dark and thrilling.

Author Blurb Sarah McCarry, author of All Our Pretty Songs
Elizabeth Hand is a national treasure. Sinister sideshow hustlers, back alley intrigues, and brilliant outsiders: Turn-of-the-century underworld Chicago comes alive in this rich, spooky, and atmospheric thriller that will appeal to fans of Henry Darger and Erik Larson alike.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W

All the elements that I like...
All the elements that I like - some characters based on real live people, takes place in the early 1900's, a little bit of a mystery, and set in an amusement park. The protagonist is Pin, a young girl, who dresses as a boy (not a spoiler) and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Henry Darger

Watercolor collage by Henry DargerIn Curious Toys, the main character, Pin, investigates the murder of a young girl in the Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago in 1915. Only one other person witnessed the girl's disappearance, a strange, shambling man named Henry Darger. Pin is fictional, but Darger is based on a real person who became famous posthumously as an artist and writer.

Henry Darger was born in Chicago in 1892. When he was four years old, his mother died giving birth to a baby girl, who was immediately put up for adoption. The separation from his sister is believed to have deeply affected Darger. He did not get along well with other children growing up, and was often violent with them. At age eight, he was placed in a boy's home where he lived for four years ...

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