U.S. private investigator Ian Kennedy specialises in finding missing persons, an obsession that began back in childhood when his father disappeared. When the book begins, Ian is living in London. His professional life is haphazard; his personal life is a mess. Ian is finally about to throw in the towel and fly back to Texas, but then a desperate woman approaches him with a case he cannot refuse.
Peri Lensky disappeared two years ago. The police labelled her a runaway and closed the investigation almost as soon as it had begun. But Laura Lensky, Peri’s mother, believes the true facts are a lot more sinister. Like Ian, she is an American living in England. Now she is about to return to the States and she knows this is her last chance to really find out what happened to her daughter.
It is only when Ian reads the missing girl’s diary and interviews her former boyfriend that he uncovers disturbing parallels between this case and one of his earlier investigations, when he was hired to track down another young woman only to discover she had been abducted by the faeries.
But these aren’t the friendly Tinkerbell-like faeries from children’s books, these are the fae – cruel, selfish entities with the power to seduce mortals and imprison them inside the Otherworld. Peri’s ex-boyfriend believes in the fae because he can see them, he knows Peri was abducted by a fairy king – one of the Sidhe, a race of sprites from Celtic folklore – but it is only Ian who understands how to break the faerie-spell and bring Peri back, and even he may not be strong enough to do that. The magic of the faeries isn’t easily resisted.
The Mysteries is a conundrum. Lisa Tuttle is a fantastic writer and her ability to juggle convincing private eye-noir with the more nebulous genres of myth and fantasy is what really makes this book something special. Let’s face it, for most of us fairies are a couple of inches high with pointy ears trailing glittery dust behind them, so how big a menace can they actually be? But Tuttle makes them a viable supernatural opponent, which is quite a trick when you think about it.
How does she do that? Well, Tuttle has the uncanny knack of making us believe that the faerie world is possible, and she partially accomplishes this by interweaving unrelated stories and folk legends about faeries in-between the chapters of the main novel. It’s an interesting approach and it certainly gives more depth to the subject but some of these side-journeys are several pages in length, which can be quite distracting. More problematic than that, one of two of them are more compelling than the novel itself, and it is quite disappointing when those segments end and the ‘proper story’ resumes.
Another issue we had with The Mysteries is that, although it is essentially quite a simple narrative, Tuttle throws in a lot of unnecessary sub-plots (some of which don’t feel properly resolved by the end of the book) and she jumps around in time and point-of-view far too often, cherry-picking past moments from her character’s lives that ultimately don’t add very much to the main story. Just like the anecdotes-between-chapters, all this extra information really accomplishes is cluttering up a plot that already requires some patience from the reader (unless the reader’s got a degree in Celtic mythology).
On that note, anyone who is familiar with the legend of ‘Tam Lin’ will either find a lot to enjoy here or a lot to get frustrated about. In many ways, this is a modern retelling of that story with a Sam Spade-twist (and, for the record, if you like ‘Tam Lin’ check out the little-known 1970 movie directed by Roddy McDowall.)
For all those reasons, The Mysteries was a disappointing read. There’s a lot to admire here - especially if you like your folklore spiced up with a little detective fiction - but the execution is lacking, the ending feels anticlimactic and the storytelling goes off-road far too often for its own good.
THE MYSTERIES / AUTHOR: LISA TUTTLE / PUBLISHER: JO FLETCHER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW