My favorite book of 2018 was The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. For me, it was like eating my favorite meal complete with a perfectly sized (but decadent) desert. Ms. Pulley’s new book Bedlam Stacks was just as delicious although it lacked that certain little bit of sweet and depth that made Watchmaker such an ideal story. Like Watchmaker, Bedlam Stacks is a mixture of historical fiction, magical realism and mystery. Pulley’s careful and meticulous story building could be seen by some as boring but I consumed this story quickly even as I tried to slowly enjoy myself.
Bedlam Stacks features Merrick Tremayne. He is the second son of an impoverished family who finds himself living at home after an injury that nearly cost him his leg. It is the mid-1800’s and so Merrick nothing but a drag on his brother’s estate. When he is faced with taking a new job from the India Office to gather cinchona trees for quinine or be sent to a location of his brother’s choosing, he elects to travel to Peru. He is concerned that he is losing his mind and he expects to die during the expedition but that is preferable to the former Naval man over a slow death in the English countryside.
In Peru, Merrick meets Raphael. Raphael is the keeper of a small town with an enormous secret. There is also a character from Watchmaker that plays a tiny but instrumental role in this book. Figuring out what is happening in Bedlam Stacks consumes both Merrick and the reader as navigating the mystery may open a path to the life saving quinine supply.
I cannot decide exactly why I loved this book. I know that it is not as good as Watchmaker but, honestly, that is an epically high bar. But the characters that Ms. Pulley creates stay with you. The story, the expedition, even the mystery all faded to the background as these characters consumed my imagination. I find myself revising it again and again in my mind and desperate to discuss the subtle nuances of the book.
Some have complained that Merrick was flat and boring. I disagree. Instead, Merrick has grown up poor but privileged. As a former Navy man with a physical disability he continues to live between two worlds. Individuals that do so gain a perspective so many others cannot experience. He is, by nature, a man made for observation and I enjoyed the opportunity to watch him.
Natasha Pulley has written another fantastic book. I sincerely hope that she is planning a third and that she will continue to include reoccurring characters!
Tell me, please!
Have you read either book? What are your thoughts?