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Review: Questionable Minds – Fraser Sherman

Questionable Minds - Fraser Sherman

Genre: Historical, Steampunk

Reviewer: Maryann

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About The Book

In Victorian England, 1888, there are those who say Sir Simon Taggart is under the punishment of God.

In an England swirling with mentalist powers — levitation, mesmerism, mind-to-mind telegraphy — the baronet is unique, possessed of mental shields that render him immune to any mental assault. Even his friends think it’s a curse, cutting him off from the next step in human mental and spiritual evolution. To Simon, it’s a blessing.

Four years ago, the Guv’nor, mystery overlord of the London underworld, arranged the murder of Simon’s wife Agnes. Obsessed with finding who hired the Guv’nor, Simon works alongside Inspector Hudnall and Miss Grey in Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department. Immunity to mental telegraphy, clairvoyance and mesmerism are an asset in his work — but they may not be enough to crack the latest case.

A mysterious killer has begun butchering Whitechapel streetwalkers. With every killing, the man newspapers call “the Ripper” grows in mental power and in the brutality of his attacks. Is murder all that’s on his mind or does he have an endgame? And what plans do the Guv’nor and his army of agents have for Simon and the Whitechapel killer?

Questionable Minds is set in a Victorian England struggling to preserve the social hierarchy while mentalism threatens to overturn it. The cast of characters includes Dr. Henry Jekyll (and yes, his friend Edward Hyde too), Jack the Ripper, and multiple other figures from history and fiction.

Warnings: Graphic violence. Victorian sexism and imperialism.

The Review

Sir Simon Taggart assisted at Scotland Yard and was referred to as the “Baronet Detective,” and it was not a term of respect. He has a sweet eleven year old daughter, Ann, who he loves dearly and will protect with all his heart. He is also in an odd relationship with Janet McIntyre, Ann’s governess.

Simon suffers with guilt as his now deceased wife, Agnes, continues to linger on his mind. Their relationship ends up being another twisted part to his story. Simon tried to lover her, and feels he was to blame for her death. It’s a sad but common Victorian tale.

And he’s seeking vengeance against Pearson Bartlett, mesmerist and The Guv’nor, who rules over crime throughout London.

Many individuals in Sherman’s world have some form of vril (mentalist powers). Simon tries to be reasonable and accept the mentalist powers, but still thinks it’s inappropriate to society.

He works closely with Inspector Timothy Hudnall and clairvoyant Dolores Grey. But when certain gruesome crimes are committed, they find themselves in disagreement with the MID, CID and Scotland Yard.

Simon has many acquaintances in his life. One of these is Dr. Henry Jekyll, who runs the Redemption House for “fallen” women. Simon has supported Dr. Jekyll and his facility for some time, and believes in the help that it has given to the women on the streets of Whitechapel.

Besides Simon’s personal issues, he finds himself faced with new crimes right out of the Penney Dreadful serialized gothic horrors. Who or what has been slaughtering the mistreated women of Whitechapel?

At first, it’s thought to be Varney (a vampire), and then Jack the Ripper. Or is it some diabolical crime committed through the mysterious art of mentalism? Could it even be the Gov’nor?

When Simon believes he knows the truth, he will need more than a plan that involves Scotland Yard. He will have to be extremely careful, as those he knows could be turned against him. He and the others who are important to him will face danger and likely death.

Questionable Minds is an excellent historical Victorian fictionalized novel of horror at the time of Jack the Ripper, Varney and the Penney Dreadful horrors. He takes the subject matter of Vril-ya and weaves a complex story about the mentalists and mentalism of the time, and how they affected London in the Victorian period.

Not all talented people have the powers of mentalism. Some have telegraphy, levitation, electrical powers, etc. Simon himself is immune to mental assaults.

The author includes some fascinating characters, especially the evil ones: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde and Thomas Henry and Nigel Bolt/Jack the Ripper. I also enjoyed Simon Taggert and Frances DuQuesne, Machen and the Passion Flower, and his use of crystals and Lytton rods, as well as Si-Fan from China, Lord of the Dark Face, and Oduarpa. There’s also the mystery “Five.”

The book is peppered with historical, famous and infamous names m and I highly suggest reading the many references at the closing of the book first to familiarize yourself with them.

Interestingly, Questionable Minds is the third book I’ve read where “The Order of the Golden Dawn” played a part.

I could say so much more about the book, but I’m worried I would give the whole story away. Suffice it to say that I was impressed with the research that Sherman did here. This is the type of novel I love to read, where fact blends with fiction to create a suspenseful, frightening, dangerous and gruesome story from the past.

The Reviewer

Hi, I’m Maryann, I started life in New York, moved to New Hampshire and in 1965 uprooted again to Sacramento, California.  Once I retired I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida in 2011 and just moved back to Sacramento in March of 2018.  My son, his wife and step-daughter flew out to Florida and we road tripped back so they got to see sights they have never seen.  New Orleans and the Grand Canyon were the highlights. Now I am back on the west coast again to stay! From a young age Ialways liked to read.

I remember going to the library and reading the “Doctor Dolittle” books by Hugh Lofting. Much later on became a big fan of the classics, Edgar Alan Poe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and as time went by Agatha Christie, Ray Bradbury and Stephen Kingand many other authors.

My first M/M shifter book I read was written by Jan Irving the “Uncommon Cowboys” series from 2012.  She was the first author I ever contacted and sent an email to letting her know how much I liked this series.  Sometime along the way I read “Zero to the Bone”by Jane Seville, I think just about everyone has read this book! 

As it stands right now I’m really into mysteries, grit, gore and “triggers” don’t bother me. But if a blurb piques my interest I will read the book.

My kindle collection eclectic and over three thousand books and my Audible collection is slowly growing.  I have both the kindle and audible apps on my ipod, ipads, and MAC. So there is never an excuse not to be listening or reading.

I joined Goodreads around 2012 and started posting reviews.  One day a wonderful lady, Lisa Horan of The Novel Approach, sent me an email to see if I wanted to join her review group.  Joining her site was such an eye opener.  I got introduce to so many new authors that write for the LGBTQ genre. Needless to say, it was heart breaking when it ended.

But I found a really great site, QRI and it’s right here in Sacramento. Last year at QSAC I actually got to meet Scott Coatsworth, Amy Lane and Jeff Adams.