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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
The Curious Case of Simon Todd by Vanessa C. Hawkins is a delightful and quirky read full of twists and strange happenings. Simon Todd's life used to be fairly normal. He was an accountant whose biggest problem was the struggle to share his feelings for his neighbor, Miss Baxter. It's his afterlife that seems to be getting weirder. After a fatal fall off his neighbor's roof, he's now a ghost with the most peculiar ailment: he sneezes spiders. When Miss Baxter asks for his company to retrieve treasure from a dragon's cave, he can hardly refuse the offer, especially when he learns the scoundrel Mr. Dashing will be accompanying her. As they travel, he's determined not to share his ghostly affliction, so Miss Baxter won't feel at fault, but that proves more difficult than he expected. Their simple journey for gold is full of surprises including Miss Baxter unveiling a tie to the wizard mafia, that happens to be sending mages to retrieve her, a Reaper circus bent on taking Simon with them, a sit-down with the four horsemen, and a mysterious new traveling companion named Jane Darcy who has a shocking secret of his own. These adventures and other surprises await Simon as he must learn to get a handle on his life as a ghost before he loses his mind.
Vanessa C. Hawkins places Simon's adventures in a western setting with similar sensibilities of the time blended with magical and supernatural twists. Their search for the dragon's gold is reminiscent of the gold rush, just with the added twist of dragons, magic, and necromancy. The characters have certain mannerisms that are reminiscent of classic westerns such as the idea of gender roles. Necromancy can be found everywhere, not just through the ghostly presence of Simon Todd himself, but with Miss Baxter's handy skill to bring things into an afterlife such as her long dead donkey. This makes matters weird, but the story works because of the level of charm the oddities bring.
Miss Baxter is an intriguing character, set up from the beginning in a way best described as the proper and well-mannered woman often seen in westerns as the love interest to the hero. Throughout the story, Miss Baxter reveals her brazen and skilled sorceress side where she's not afraid to take on the wizard mafia. This brazen attribute is a contrast to her usual naivete and sweet personality which Simon often fawns over. Simon himself is an all-round good guy with a shy and awkward personality, mostly seen through his babbling around Miss Baxter, and is often flustered with his proper societal views. He stands out versus the other characters who are often bolder in their speech and wilder in their ways. He's ever the gentlemen compared to Mr. Dashing who is daring and vocal about his lust for women.
Jane Darcy, a dragon in disguise, uses this human party to get back to his treasure. He doesn't know certain rules of being human such as picking the 'appropriate' name so he's out of place with the humans and his misunderstandings are often adorable. He's cultured and composed, choosing his name from his two favorite book characters. All the characters fit so well together it makes the adventure even more fun to read. The Curious Case of Simon Todd is set up based on the journey to get treasure from a dragon's cave with nothing ever being as simple it seems, which is obvious in the abundance of strange and humorous characters, including members of a wizard mafia, the four horsemen, dragons, ghosts, and Reapers. A delightful read you won't want to miss!