Curious Toys

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This book contains a rare kind of perfection: Elizabeth Hand’s rough, observant magic draws into its circle great historical accuracy, a cross-dressing central protagonist, a wonderfully tender portrait of the great Outsider Artist Henry Darger, a vibrant thriller plot, reflections on gender and its place in civic order, a helpful Ben Hecht, and one of the greatest climactic drop-the-mic moments I’ve ever read—and does all this while patiently setting into place the warm emotional armatures that made Curious Toys so moving.
— Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story, Koko, and Magic Terror
To call the novel and its characters ‘colorful’ is a terrific understatement. A carnival setting immediately allows for a higher threshold of the bizarre, but Hand skillfully develops each character beyond mere oddity or empty sensation. Most of all, Pin is an engaging, courageous heroine, and her musings on gender identity are both poignant and relevant. Richly imaginative and psychologically complex.
— Kirkus Reviews
Sinister sideshow hustlers, back alley intrigues, and brilliant outsiders: turn-of-the-century underworld Chicago comes alive in Elizabeth Hand’s rich, spooky, and atmospheric thriller that will appeal to fans of Henry Darger and Erik Larson alike. Elizabeth Hand is a national treasure.
— Sarah McCarry, author of All Our Pretty Songs

Riverview, Chicago 1914 map

Curious Toys is an utterly compelling read with a sleuth who will win your heart. This is one mystery you won’t want to miss.
— Ellen Hart, MWA Grand Master and author of the Jane Lawless mysteries
Curious Toys is wonderful. I stayed up late two nights in a row with it, transported to a Chicago I never experienced firsthand — it will be catnip for readers who love Chicago, circuses, cross-dressers, and early cinema. I think it is a delightful addition to the literature of Henry Darger. I hope he might have had a companion as interesting as Pin, though somehow I doubt it, alas.
— Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
I’ve long admired Elizabeth Hand for her ability to write in whatever genre pleases her, be it noir, fantasy, and science fiction. With Curious Toys she goes further, spinning a wild, expansive, and bravura tale of carnival life, dead and missing girls, identity shifts, and big dreams transformed into awful nightmares. I loved this book.
— Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized The World

Release Date: October 15, 2019

The Alienist meets The Devil in the White City: An intrepid young woman stalks a murderer through turn-of-the-century Chicago, in the transfixing new historical novel from Elizabeth Hand.

In the sweltering summer of 1915, Pin, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a carnival fortune-teller, disguises herself as a boy and joins a teenage gang that roams the famous Riverview amusement park, looking for trouble.

Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy the attractions, the park is also host to a ruthless killer who uses the shadows of the dark carnival attractions to conduct his crimes. When Pin sees a man enter the Hell Gate ride with a young girl, and emerge alone, she knows that something horrific has occurred.

The crime will lead her to the iconic outsider artist Henry Darger, a brilliant but seemingly mad man. Together, the two navigate the seedy underbelly of a changing city to uncover a murderer few even know to look for.

A phantasmagoric time trip tailor-made for fans of The Devil in the White City.
— Publishers Weekly

Riverview Park

When great artists meet—in this case Henry Darger and Elizabeth Hand—extraordinary things happen. For years Elizabeth Hand has been the supreme writer’s writer, an inside secret among those in the know. With Curious Toys, Elizabeth Hand confirms her place as one of the great writers of our era. This book is exactly what you want to read—absorbing, intelligent, bold. As the author says, only a girl would be so brave.
— Sara Gran, author of The Infinite Blacktop and Clare DeWitt and the City of the Dead
Elizabeth Hand crafts a story that is, to borrow her own phrasing late in Curious Toys, ‘gruesome but peculiar,’ a fun house mirror of a novel filled with Chicago history and detail. Dark and thrilling.
— Lori Rader-Day, Edgar Award-nominated author of Under a Dark Sky
Hand expertly plays the excitement of Chicago’s burgeoning entertainment industry against the killer’s unsettling obsession with dolls, twisting the story even darker by pairing Pin with Henry Darger, a freshly released psychiatric patient who claims he’s on a mission to save Chicago’s girls. A well-crafted and deliciously unsettling period thriller that will find fans among those who enjoy Caleb Carr’s mix of early modern technology and investigative action.
— Booklist, starred review
The historical details are fantastic, as are several cameos by real-life figures besides Darger. When readers reach the end of this thrilling adventure, they’ll see how every choice has been perfectly made. ­Hand is a mage of the page. The gritty mise-en-scène and realistically portrayed characters in her novel will enchant those who like tough-girl protagonists and antiheroes, as well as fans of historical crime fiction.
— Library Journal, starred review