A story that seems somewhat young and incompletely conceived, perhaps one might say, odd. Unfortunately, I had to return the ebook reader (a trial to see if I’m the ereading type), so my concerns are from memory of a brisk read. Frankly, the story is a little messy. The idea of stories from photographs is wonderful; the trouble is that such old photos are better integrated with another age, not a modern one. Just imagine, if Houdini had a Vegas act now: it would fold within weeks on an age that has fed on David Copperfield and Criss Angel. Peculiar isn’t able to transcend time and still maintain the wonder of a simpler kind of magic of floating girls and growing plants; Riggs finally has to resort to a fireball-throwing girl to truly amaze us. Peculiar wants to be both magical and real, historic and modern, and succeeds at none.
When the connection with an orphanage bombed by Nazis came clear, I wondered if Rigg’s was setting up a disturbed psychological horror story, with “monsters” standing in for Nazis in the grandfather’s eccentric mind. Maybe he was deluded all along, and the only monsters there were were the human ones? Alas, both the voracious hallowgast and Nazis were equally real. Like the book, I had the equally odd reaction of being both intrigued and annoyed–intrigued by the potential exploration of “real” and “imaginary,” but annoyed by the use of Nazis, which seem have become cinematic and literary shorthand for evil. It was disappointing that Riggs did not feel confident enough in either opponent and he had to overwhelm the children with both. I can almost hear the blurbs shouting in capital letters: “Orphans!” “Impossible Odds,” “Omnipotent Evil,” “Dismembered and Mutilated Sheep,” and “Nazi U-boats!”
The youngness shows through in the basic assumption that these “kids” could be seventy-eight or a hundred and eighteen, or whatever age they are, and still have the personality of nine-year-olds, when by rights they should be either creepily strange or psychotic. Really–if one lived fifty years, in the exact same day, over and over again, wouldn’t they get a little crazy? (I mean, Bill Murray unhinged after only three or four days in Groundhog’s Day). And having the lead peculiar girl, Emma, (spoiler)fall for Jacob after being sweethearts with his grandfather seemed somewhat… peculiar, if not weirdly incestuous, like dating your grandmother.
If only I had not read this on a first-edition e-ink book, I might have better appreciated the photographs. I almost feel like I’m missing a crucial element, after reading through some of the other reviews. This is one book that should be avoided in small screen black-and-white. As such, it was probably more two and a half stars. Inventive in an amateur patchwork quilt kind of way.