Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Creepy Classic: The String of Pearls

The String of Pearls (Dodo Press) is an original penny dreadful tale that sparked an undying allure of what I believe one of the most nefarious villains of all time: Sweeney Todd.  Broadway and Hollywood immortalized Sweeney Todd in the mystical movies and plays of The Demon Barber on Fleet Street, but it all began with The String of Pearls.  The version I was able to read was by Thomas Peckett Prest.
I can’t say enough about Sweeney Todd.  His character is genius in print.  Yet as bizarre, terrifying and evil as he is, he is somehow likeable.  To me, Todd was the Victorian’s forethought to the modern day, literary icon, Hannibal Lecter.  Both are oddly horrifying and menacing yet somehow entertaining. 

The story starts out where a patron, Lieutenant Thornhill, visits the barber’s establishment for a shave before meeting with the lovely Johanna.  He must inform her that her beau, Mark, died at sea and give to her Mark’s last gift: a string of pearls.  Sadly, Todd polishes off the Lieutenant and he never makes it to Johanna’s.  What’s unique about this patron is his god-loving faithful dog, Hector.  Apparently the owner and his pooch were inseparable and so when his master fails to exit the barber’s shop, the pooch becomes frantic.  Oh, I can’t convey the sentiments stirred in me by this dog.  For it not for him, the story would not be possible since he’s the one that ignites the investigation of his master’s disappearance.  One of my favorite quotes “Give me my master, and I will forgive you all that you have done…”  The relentless canine then enlists his master’s friends which was too adorable for words.  Between the dog, Johanna, Lieutenant Thornhill’s friends and even the barber’s apprentice, Tobias, Sweeney Todd battles some serious heat.  However grotesque this story is, without the dog and even Tobias, I think I’d been happy allowing Todd slitting the throats of his innocent patrons.

The story curves and dips around the extravagent and very hot string of pearls.  You gotta love Tobias, who in the beginning instinctively knows his boss (Todd) is murdering his clients.  Aside from how cruel Sweeney can be to the poor lad, Tobias notes that the client’s often enter the shop and oddly leave their belongings.  It didn’t take the poor chap too long to figure out something was amiss.  Another one of treasured quotes from this tale is Tobia’s “-I only wish that I were dead.” Poor kid. 

The tale unfolds the horrifying mystery of what happened to the barber's clients, introducing key details like Mrs. Lovett and her savage pies.  Between the serial killings, the cannibalism, the wistful romance, the apprentice and loyal friends that extend as far as one’s dog, this book has all the makings of a timeless classic.  If you have seen or read Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber on Fleet Street, I beg you to try forgetting what you already know about the character and read its original tale with fresh eyes.  Only then, can you truly grasp how purely raw, brilliant and unforgettable this creepy classic is.  I won’t tell you want happens it wouldn’t be right. 

The String of Pearls is a classic so you can get your copy at the library, a book store or even an ebook retailer.  I downloaded mine for free at, so now you have no excuses.  For me The String of Pearls was a 4 ½ .  Stripped to the very core, its horror and mystery at its finest – I will forever smile when I think of Sweeney Todd and equally shudder when I think about those revolting meat pies.

Mina B.     


Deedles said...

Thanks for the review Mina! Sounds like a great read.

SusieBookworm said...

Thanks for the review! I'm always interested in literature of the 19th century and before, especially what was then "popular" literature such as penny dreadfuls.


Great review!

Mina Burrows said...

@Deedles - To appreciate everything you know about ST, you have to start with this book - I think. :)

@SusieBookworm - Thanks! There are so many. Check out sites like Kobo or for Free Classics.

@ReadFreek - Thanks, RF. I really did enjoy it. Hope you will too!

carla said...

You got me hooked after you talked about Hector.
I have not read or seen the other Sweeney Todd. I think I saw the movie trailers is all.
Have a great week!

Mina Burrows said...

Thanks Carla! Todd is such a character in this book. Try it. :0)