Creeping Jenny is the third in a series of John Nyquist novels following on from A Man of Shadows and Body Library. It is published by Angry Robot Books and is available as an ebook from their website with paperback and hardback versions available from all good booksellers.
I haven’t read either of those previous two novels and came about this one through synchronicity on Twitter. I saw people taking about how good Jeff Noon books are and saw Creeping Jenny was available as a wish on Netgalley. Angry Robot Books very kindly granted the wish but unfortunately the book expired the next day but Angry Robot still very kindly still provided an ARC copy for review.
That said, I didn’t find that an impedance reading Creeping Jenny. It’s a captivating, enthralling mystery with magical, horror and occult themes. At times the edges of reality are blurred between waking, dreaming and altered states of consciousness. The plot development is really well paced with plot twists throughout.
I’ve written this review as spoiler free as possible. John Nyquist is a down on his luck private eye who is investigating the disappearance of his father. The story opens with him on a bus, heading to the village of Hoxley-on-the-Hale. After alighting the bus, he walks through a field finding woodland with writing on cards tied to the branches of trees.
That’s the first indication that Hoxley isn’t quite what it seems. The village appears fairly normal with houses, a village green, shop, a pub and church but his first interaction with the villagers reveals a strange and sinister side.
The village is large enough that there is some anonymity but there is also a wariness of strangers and a feeling that quite a few of them probably know everyone’s business.
This presents challenges in itself but the task is made much harder by Saint’s Days. This is a clever twist on how we know Saint’s Days, in Hoxley they are part of everyday life, there are only five days a year that aren’t Saint’s Days. These Saints are randomly chosen throughout the year and govern the villager’s behaviour in a number of different and at times very strange ways. It’s almost like a cult, the villagers struggle to know what to do on those five non-Saint days.
The story reveals a hidden web of dark secrets lurking beneath the surface of this seemingly normal village. And not very far below the surface. There’s the mysterious and very creepy Tolly Man who makes an appearance each year but is so deeply woven into the psyche of the villagers he’s an ever present.
And then there’s Creeping Jenny, immortalised in particularly freakish nursery rhymes and songs and never too far away.
The connections are gradually revealed as the plot unfolds through twists and turns and character development and a number of impediments presented by various Saints.
It’s hugely enjoyable and a gripping read. The plot twists kept me guessing and there are several unexpected twists and turns as the story reaches its climax.