The Turnglass

Written by Gareth Rubin

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Turnglass
Simon & Schuster UK
RRP: £16.99
Released: Aug 31 2023

Book reviewers are frequently overheard ‘I’m looking for something new, something different from the same old, same old’. This work is just that, something very different. It’s not a novel per se, but rather two novellas printed head-to-tail. The technique has been termed a tête-bêche, an association with stamp-collecting ["philatélie"]. I recall the closing line to our review of the author’s 2019 Novel “Gareth Rubin is name to watch for” which years later is proven to be so very true.

The two historical novellas that make up this narrative, are set in two periods of time, upon two continents and written in two very different writing styles. The publishers indicate that The Turnglass’s two novellas can be read in any order, though perhaps it is best sampled by chronology.

1880s, Essex Coast. England.

Dr Simeon Lee of London ventures to the Essex Coast in order to investigate the mysterious illness that has befallen his relative, the former soldier – turned clergyman - Oliver Hawes. Lee’s relative lives in Turnglass House, the sole abode on the island of Ray. Cut off from the mainland at high tide, but linked to the neighbouring island of Mersea, the atmosphere is oppressive and claustrophobic for the young doctor. Smuggling operations by the local fisherman and ne’er-do-wells provide a dangerous backdrop as does the presence of the mysterious ‘Florence’, a murderess imprisoned in a glass-walled cell within Turnglass House. As the Parson’s health deteriorates, Dr Hawes tries to uncover what is causing the illness especially as his relative believes he is being poisoned. There’s also Parson Hawes’ journal written in the back of a chapbook / novelette The Gold Field by O. Tooke about a journey to America set several decades in the future.

The Doctor discovers a body, hidden in the marsh on the edge of the Strood [the pathway that at low tide links the islands of Ray and Mersea to the Essex mainland]. Deftly etched characters add to the mystery, such as [the imprisoned] Florence’s father, the magistrate Watkins and the unfriendly people living on Mersea such as the [alleged] child murderer Mary Fen.

The Doctor must solve the family mysteries which centre on Turnglass House, as well as project into the future, like that of the novelette that his relative, Parson Hawes was using as a journal.

1930s, Los Angeles, California. America.

The second novella is less of a Victorian gothic mystery, but more of an American Noir narrative set in the late 1930s. Ken Kourian, is a struggling Hollywood actor who befriends the mysterious Gloria. As success in ‘Hollywood-land’ [Hollywood’s original name] is all about connections, Gloria introduces Ken to the successful author Oliver Tooke, who lives with his sister, the mysterious Coraline in their glass-walled home, The Turnglass situated on the Californian beach-front. Ken and Oliver become friends.

When Oliver Tooke is discovered dead from an apparent suicide, Ken does not believe his friend took his own life, so he decides to investigate. He uncovers intrigue in pre-World War Two America, politics and dark family histories of the powerful and wealthy in California. Though the revelations in Oliver Tooke’s short novel The Turnglass, a narrative about a certain Dr Simeon Lee prove to be most enlightening, not just for Ken Kourian’s investigation into his friend’s death, but equally revelatory for the reader.  

When the second novella [set 1930s California, America] closes, the reader is compelled to go back to the first [1880s Essex, England] and then see how this intricate mesh of metafiction, was structured.

Gareth Rubin’s two novellas that form The Turnglass is a narrative of mysterious beauty, locking two very different writing styles to tell two very different stories that are linked so, so very elegantly.

Less of a novel, more a unique reading experience.

To miss The Turnglass would be sinful.


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