Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Written by H.P. Wood
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In 1904, Coney Island is New York City’s magical playground, brought to life by the mysterious power of electricity. Live shows recreate the destruction of Pompeii, calliopes and roller coasters delight and thrill. Fortunetellers, contortionists, midgets, and giants showcase the extremes of human mind and body. And at the far end of Coney Island, dark and seedy, is Theophilus P. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. Daring souls who open the door of the old, blacked-out building are greeted by Zeph, a legless black Unusual (as the “circus freaks” style themselves).

Kitty Hayward is a newly-arrived English immigrant turned willy-nilly out of her hotel after her mother disappears. With nowhere to go, the young woman drifts down the beach to Coney Island, where she is taken in by the Unusuals. There are marvels to be experienced by Kitty and other Dozens (as the Unusuals style tourists), but also dangers; especially when illness on a quarantined ship is revealed as bubonic plague, and Coney Island is imperiled.

It’s hard to tell reality from illusion in Coney Island, and the same is true for H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. It’s a complicated story with a huge cast, but very entertaining, and will keep you guessing right up until the end.