Review: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood


Title: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Author: H.P. Wood

Published: June 7th 2016, Sourcebooks Landmark

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is an engaging novel set in the early 1900’s on Coney Island, New York.

It’s 1904, and seventeen year old Kitty Hayward finds herself stranded in Coney Island when her ailing mother, and all their belongings, inexplicably disappears from the hotel room they were sharing. Friendless, homeless, and penniless, she must rely on the kindness of a stranger who introduces her to the extraordinary employees and hanger-ons of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet.

“Theophilus P. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is just an ugly old building with blacked-out windows and a faded sign. Thousands of souls may visit Coney Island, but few of those souls are hearty enough to peer inside Magruder’s heavy oak door.”

The characters of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet are extraordinarily rendered, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Magruder’s is a rundown dime museum crowded with oddities, staffed solely by Zeph, a legless black man. Upstairs lives Timur, a reclusive inventor, and Rosalind, who has a carny act as a half woman half man in a tent on the boardwalk. In the basement of the building is an unlicensed pub which welcomes the unusual employees of the Coney Island attractions after hours. It is with this eccentric family, which also includes Rosalind’s lover Enzo, and a mute orphan boy the call P-Ray, that Kitty unexpectedly finds refuge, and help.

“That’s what we call you…normal people. You call us Unusuals, freaks, monsters… Did you never think we’d have our own name for you? Dozens. As in, dime a.”

Wood takes a little liberty with some of the historical elements in this novel, but the story is richer for it. Coney Island becomes the epicentre of an outbreak of plague (inspired by a similar event which actually occurred on the country’s west coast) threatening both ‘freaks’ and ‘dozens’ alike. It is this tragedy that drives much of action, as the wealthy owners Coney Island’s businesses attempt to hide the virulent disease they call the ‘Calcutta Cough’ in order to protect their profits, and their employees are left to fend for themselves as the dead pile up around them.

“We must keep those hotels filled, miss! Keep those dancehalls crowded, keep that Shoot the Chute flying down the track. And if you develop a slight cough, if your complexion goes a bit lumpy? The men in masks will scoop you up and take you away…”

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is a thoughtful exploration of oppression, corruption, belonging, and compassion. Often delightful and charming yet also dark and challenging, its also a story of perseverance and redemption in the face of tragedy.

With lively characters, a colourful setting and a rich and interesting plot I found Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet to be an entertaining and enchanting read.


Available to Purchase via

Sourcebooks I Indiebound I Amazon US


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Jane
    May 11, 2019 @ 23:34:12

    I’ve read some fab stories about carnival and sideshow people and this looks like a darkly fun addition to the genre. Worth a try, I think!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts as I hadn’t heard about the book before

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Lola
    May 12, 2019 @ 05:45:01

    That sounds like an interesting story! I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction so far. It seems this one has an interesting cast of characters and that’s good that the historical inaccuracies worked for the book.



  3. Theresa Smith Writes
    May 12, 2019 @ 20:55:58

    I love the sound of this one!



  4. Mystica
    May 12, 2019 @ 23:12:27

    Sounds a bit different. Thanks for the review.



  5. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | book'd out

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