A fast-paced tale of a historic amusement park under siege.
In 1904 Coney Island, the workers and residents of the Dreamland amusement park, people differently shaped and skilled, call themselves “Unusuals” and call the patrons who pay to watch them perform “Dozens,” as in “a dime a dozen.” Beneath Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a dusty dime museum of “trinkets and geewgaws” is Magruder’s Unusual Tavern, where the locals gather, presided over by Zeph Andrews, a man with no legs, Rosalind, who is half man and half woman, and con man Archie. Among this crew appears Kitty Hayward, a posh English teenager new in town and recently evicted from the resort hotel where she last saw her gravely ill mother by a staff who claims never to have seen either one of them. The Unusuals take on the challenge of solving her mystery but soon have bigger problems on their hands. The streets are clogged with dead rats, and tourists given to sudden bouts of coughing have been made to disappear, just as Kitty’s mother was. Debut author Wood manages a large cast and a complicated story with a light touch and has a knack for capturing a character with a deft phrase. The son of the owner of Dreamland was “born at the front of the line” and has enjoyed “a glittering lifetime of yes.” Wood keeps the plot moving at a page-turning clip, sometimes sacrificing deeper insights into the occasionally cloying eccentricities of the characters and their slightly implausible allegiances—particularly near the end, when the scenes become screenplay-short and focused solely on action and dialogue.
An entertaining, well-researched, if sometimes superficial beach read about a famous beach.