This enjoyable steampunk whodunit ticks all the boxes if you like your speculative fiction dosed with a liberal helping of Victoriana. Death stalks London and the newspapers proclaim that a mummy’s curse has been unleashed. Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, is drawn into a web of occult intrigue as he attempts to solve the murders. And he soon finds himself on the trail of a rogue agent – a man who died to be reborn as a living weapon.
Newbury’s able assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, has her own mystery to unravel. Girls are going missing from a magician’s theatre show. But what appears to be a straightforward investigation puts Miss Hobbes in mortal danger.
Can Newbury save his assistant, solve the riddle of the mummy’s curse, capture the deadly man-machine – and stop the terrifying Osiris Ritual from reaching its infernal culmination?
This is the second book in this series, although I haven’t read the first offering. Does that matter? While the whodunit plotlines powering the book certainly are completely stand-alone and brought to a satisfactory conclusion, I did feel that Mann could have spared a bit more time and effort bonding his readership with his two protagonists. I certainly think the scene where Veronica Hobbes visits her sister should be earlier in the book than Chapter 8 – because that ongoing puzzle was the one that really caught my interest and lifted our plucky heroine from the obligatory female sidekick to a more three dimensional character.
Apart from that one grizzle, Mann clearly had a blast writing this book – his depiction of the world crackles with energy and he effectively captures the customs and speech rhythms of the era, without silting up the narrative pace. In fact, the story pitches forward at a fairly cracking rate with all sorts of mayhem ensuing. Mann deftly handles the various plotlines and writes the action scenes with plenty of clarity, while giving us a ringside seat of how all this is affecting his protagonists – a more technically challenging task than it looks.
If you are a fan of this sub-genre, with pea-soup fogs and steam-powered gismos doing it for you, then you’ll definitely enjoy pacing the cobbled streets along with Newton and Veronica. And if you occasionally venture into this corner of speculative fiction when you want a break from faster-than-light travel, or conflicted sword-waving misfits – you’ll find plenty here to provide page-turner appeal and whisk you back to an age where they don’t make ‘em like that, anymore.