Title: Opium and Absinthe
Author: Lydia Kang
New York City, 1899. Tillie Pembroke’s sister lies dead, her body drained of blood and with two puncture wounds on her neck. Bram Stoker’s new novel, Dracula, has just been published, and Tillie’s imagination leaps to the impossible: the murderer is a vampire. But it can’t be—can it?
A ravenous reader and researcher, Tillie has something of an addiction to truth, and she won’t rest until she unravels the mystery of her sister’s death. Unfortunately, Tillie’s addicted to more than just truth; to ease the pain from a recent injury, she’s taking more and more laudanum…and some in her immediate circle are happy to keep her well supplied.
Tillie can’t bring herself to believe vampires exist. But with the hysteria surrounding her sister’s death, the continued vampiric slayings, and the opium swirling through her body, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a girl who relies on facts and figures to know what’s real—or whether she can trust those closest to her.
This, like most of my reading material nowadays, was a complete impulse buy. I’m not even sure how I came across it in the first place, but I am so glad I did!
The story follows protagonist Tillie Pembroke, a young woman who suffers the terrible loss of her sister at the same time that an injury puts her in the path of continuous opium use. She becomes obsessed with her sister’s murder – and it’s a good thing she does, because her loved ones seem intent on forgetting her and the police do little to nothing to move the case forward.
Although this isn’t my usual read, the mention of Dracula pulled me in immediately. I’ve always loved that story, and the idea of a copycat murderer appealed to the part of me that loves police procedural TV shows. And so I dove right in, and I have to say this is one of the most enjoyable reads of 2020 for me. Tillie is an excellent character to root for – flawed but doing her best. She navigates a world where everyone seems to want to stifle her and shut her up. You can really feel her emotion and frustration throughout the story, and the shame she feels at realizing that she might not have known her sister as well as she thought.
The way the mystery unravels kept me glue to the book. I’ve had a bit of a dry spell with my reading list but this was an easy one to binge through. The writing is simple, but elegant, and Tillie’s narration of the story is captivating in a way I haven’t read in a long time. I really enjoyed her voice, and it would be interesting if we get a whole series of her journalistic endeavors, solving crime. And I’m definitely looking forward to reading more work by Lydia Kang!
If you’re a fan of mysteries in the vein of Sherlock Holmes, I highly recommend this one!