THE TERATOLOGIST by Ward Parker (2018 Pandamoon Publishing / 287 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Here’s another I went into without knowing anything about it beforehand but the title (NOT, by the way, to be confused with the one by Edward Lee and Wrath James White; VERY different stuff, both good, but VERY different!) And here’s another where I found myself utterly swept up and blown away.
It’s historical, for one, set in 1902, with high society spending the ‘season’ in Palm Beach Florida. We’re talking Gilded Age, shades of Wodehouse, the fancies and fashion … add in cameos by Vanderbilts, add in the ever-witty and charming Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens as a supporting character … yes please!
Even without disappearances and burned/mutilated bodies turning up to make a mystery of things, I’m there. But wait, there’s more! Because the protagonist is a teratologist. Not in the ‘monster hunter’ sense, but in the medical sense of studying birth defects and human oddities.
Doctor Frank Follett has come to Florida partly on vacation and partly because he’s still struggling with his traumas from the war and the loss of his young wife. While there, however, he can’t help but be intrigued by rumors of ‘Angel Worm,’ a little girl born without limbs, who’s also said to have the voices of the dead speak through her. He’s anticipating a new case. He’s not anticipating to hear his beloved Isabel, and find his beliefs in science and the rational world deeply challenged.
Nor is he anticipating being called in on another case, involving the son of a wealthy family … the youth appears to be suffering from hypertrichosis (the thing with the hair, like circus dog-faced boys, etc) as well as other ailments … and other unusual abilities, abilities of the mind.
Or is something else going on? Something with demons and dark forces? Can Dr. Follett and the urbane Twain figure it out before more lives are lost? I read the whole thing in a single night, unable to look away, captivated throughout. This was a welcome discovery of a treasure, and I was delighted to realize it’s the first in a series. Will be eagerly awaiting the next!