Book Review: The Small Museum by Jody Cooksley

Blog tour, Book reviews By May 23, 2024 No Comments

Marriage to a London doctor and a new life far from her family in Cheshire is even stranger, and much more dangerous than Madeleine Brewster ever could have imagined in Jody Cooksley’s The Small Museum.

London, 1873. Madeleine Brewster’s marriage to Dr Lucius Everley was meant to be the solution to her family’s sullied reputation. After all, Lucius is a well-respected collector of natural curiosities, his ‘Small Museum’ of bones and things in jars is his pride and joy, although kept under lock and key. His sister Grace’s philanthropic work with fallen women is also highly laudable. However, Maddie is confused by and excluded from what happens in what is meant to be her new home.

Maddie’s skill at drawing promises a role for her though when Lucius agrees to let her help him in making a breakthrough in evolutionary science, a discovery of the first ‘fish with feet’. But the more Maddie learns about both Lucius and Grace, the more she suspects that unimaginable horrors lie behind their polished reputations.

The Small Museum opens with Madeleine Brewster’s marriage to Dr Lucius Everley, which is a cold, strange affair, and doesn’t appear to augur well for their future happiness. We only see it from Maddie’s perspective but she seems to have been wrenched out of her lovely rural home in Cheshire and suddenly transplanted to London. Clearly no great love match—on either side—Madeleine Brewster is being sacrificed to salvage her family’s good name after a loss of reputation. Married off to a London doctor by her own Cheshire doctor’s family at short notice, she is offered up in order to save the rest of the family by marrying well.

If the match doesn’t get off to an auspicious start, the next chapter only confirms that things quickly go from bad to worse for Maddie. She finds herself accused of a most heinous crime and the evidence against her appears to be compelling. How it has come to this and whether she can challenge it at all is told throughout the rest of the book, as it flicks back and forth between the trial and the marriage that brought us here.

And at this point I have to tell you to clear your diary until you’ve finished The Small Museum because I was hard-pressed to put it down. I read it in only two sittings because I had to know if we were lulled into trusting Maddie from the first chapter or if darker forces were at play here. I wasn’t disappointed but had no idea how deliciously dark and gothic it would get. Jody Cooksley takes us on a brutally menacing tour of a Victorian marriage and shows us how much events can get twisted to fit someone else’s truly hideous agenda.

There are some terrific characters in The Small Museum: the incredibly close doctor and his sister, who both work with fallen women for far more than philanthropic reasons; the Barkers, the housekeeper and her husband pairing, who rule the household as if Old Doctor Everley is still alive and guard their domain incredibly well; and Maddie, who is experiencing her first time away from home, and marriage, with little advice or guidance, while feeling incredibly isolated. She finds some allies along the way in Caroline and Tizzy but can they save her from her current ordeal when she appears to offer up so little resistance? Has she been worn down into submission or did she commit the horrific act she’s accused of?

Jody Cooksley has written a truly menacing and macabre story of a marriage; a dangerously Gothic tale of a young woman who is handed off to people who carry the outward appearance of respectability but whose extra-curricular activities in The Small Museum will force them into deliciously dark dealings and nefarious practices. Will Maddie survive the ordeal or become yet another victim to it? I can only recommend you read this one to find out. It’s deeply disturbing and as gratifying as it promises. I loved this book.

The Small Museum by Jody Cooksley is published by Allison & Busby. It’s available in audiobook, ebook and in hardback from Amazon UK (affiliate link), (affiliate link), Hive and Waterstones. Jody Cooksley studied literature at Oxford Brookes University and has a Masters in Victorian Poetry. Her debut novel The Glass House was a fictional account of the life of nineteenth-century photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. The Small Museum, Jody’s third novel, won the 2023 Caledonia Novel Award.

Thanks to Helen Richardson for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, details below:


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