|Cover art by Frauke Spanuth|
To be published Jan. 31 by Carina Press
Quick Take:This is a short but fairly succinct story, which succeeds in capturing the spirit of the classic "Whodunit" detective fiction. With the added steampunk element, it's quite the imaginative romp.
Book Description (from GoodReads):
In a time of grand airships and steam-powered cars, the death of a penniless young maid will hardly make the front page. But part-time airship waitress and music hall dancer Julia Bairstow is shattered by her sister's murder. When Lady Law, the most notorious private detective in Britain, offers to investigate the case pro bono, Julia jumps at the chance-even against the advice of Constable Al Grant, who takes her protection surprisingly to heart.
Lady Law puts Scotland Yard to shame. She's apprehended Jack the Ripper and solved countless other cold-case crimes. No one knows how she does it, but it's brought her fortune, renown and even a title. But is she really what she claims to be-a genius at deducting? Or is Al right and she is not be trusted?
Julia is determined to find out the truth, even if it means turning sleuth herself-and turning the tables on Lady Law...
Review:What is it about 19th- (and early 20th) century Britain that makes for such fun, memorable detective tales? The adventures of Holmes, Poirot, Hartwright… when you think of old-school sleuthing, you often think of that time and place. Or at least I do! ^_^ The notion of ferreting out details on heinous crimes amongst staid and "polite" society is amusing, sitting here a century later.
Add to that a layer of steampunk, with wild possibilities and accompanying societal optimism (masking private pessimism, of course). That's what is at the heart of this tale, set in London. At one point in the story a character makes passing reference to Wilkie Collins…and it's an apt acknowledgement for the author to have included. In Lady Law, there's the mysterious crime. There's what's assumed and accepted to have happened, and there's what really occurred. Of course, there's also the tenacious individual who will anything to get to the truth.
I loved how the author instilled a sense of potential shadiness in just about everyone and everything. One feels they must question everything that occurs…seemingly innocuous comments; curious coincidences. There are many red herrings tucked away all over the place, but they are plausible and thus serve their indented purpose: to produce doubt, for both the characters and the reader.
This story is fairly short…I'd say it's novella length. As such, character exploration remained mostly superficial. The progression of the mystery itself remains front-and-center, which I appreciated. But there was just enough development of the main cast to elicit some concern for their well-being. Due to the length, I also chose to overlook a couple of expository loose-ends.
The steampunk element was indeed a necessity to the plot, though that is perhaps not immediately evident. Descriptions were full enough to paint a strong visual picture, and one can make guesses at everything else; I must admit I had no clue what a psammeticum lens or a Leviacrum telescope would look like, but I managed just fine. ^_^
I hear-tell that this story is Robert Appleton's first go at steampunk. I think he wove a fun little tale, and hope he has plans to write in the genre again.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars