The Frankenstein Murders

By Kathlyn Bradshaw

As anyone who has read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein knows, the book doesn’t make a lot of sense. It proceeds with the logic of a dream, explaining its plot points in breezy and unconvincing fashion. Just how does the monster learn languages so fast? And how did he get so big when, after all, Victor Frankenstein had to build him out of standard (that is, normal-size) body parts?

At least one contemporary reader of Robert Walton’s journal, the fictional source for the Frankenstein story, finds that it “does not provide the ring of truth.” This is George Clerval, father of Henry Clerval, the close childhood friend of Victor Frankenstein whose corpse washed up on an Irish beach in the original, apparently murdered by the monster. And so, just a couple of years after the events of the famous novel, Henry’s father funds an independent inquiry led by British private investigator Edward Freame to take a closer look into the matter.

This is the premise behind Ottawa author Kathlyn Bradshaw’s clever re-imagining of the popular Frankenstein franchise. Borrowing the same form – presented as a series of letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings – it takes Shelley’s Romantic fantasy and brings it forward some fifty years in terms of literary genre, casting it as a sort of Dickensian detective story. Edward Freame is interested in finding out the facts, not experiencing the sublime.

While knowledge of the original isn’t necessary to enjoy The Frankenstein Murders, some acquaintance with it is highly recommended. Bradshaw doesn’t just revisit characters and locations, but themes like intellectual obsession and the double. Even innocent readers, however, will find Freame’s investigation moves briskly through well-drawn scenes full of sinister atmosphere. In fact there may be too much of this, as the book often tries to suggest more is going on than there really is, making the dramatic conclusion feel a bit abrupt. Getting there, however, is plenty of fun.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, November 2008.

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