Source: Review Copy
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
I was first introduced to the World of Steampunk a few years ago when I happened upon a copy of Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman. A wonderful read, it’s the story of a young man named Orphan living in a Steampunk Victorian England and trying to track down “the Bookman”, a terrorist responsible for the death of his paramour. My interest stoked by this delightful tale, I then took a chance on the works of Stephen Hunt, who, with The Court of the Air deserves (as far as I’m concerned) the title of King of Steampunk. However, if Hunt is the reigning King, then George Mann may very well be known as the Crown Prince. From The Affinity Bridge to The Executioner’s Heart, Mann has created an alternate Victorian England populated by characters heroic and sinister—and sometimes both—and created an investigative duo whose exploits rival those of a 221B Baker Street’s consulting detective and his trusty biographer.
Over the course of four novels, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes have combatted foes both technological and occult, serving as agents of the crown to protect and foster the interests of her majesty, Queen Victoria. They’re not alone in their endeavors, at times enlisting the help of, at other times being seconded to, Sir Charles Bainbridge, chief inspector of Scotland Yard. Yet we’ve never heard Newbury’s (or Hobbes for that matter) origin story, and The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes is Mann’s way of fleshing out their back story during the periods not chronicled by the novels. It also reveals a ghost of the past in the person of Templeton Black, Newbury’s former assistant, and introduces the future in Peter Rutherford, a member of the British Secret Service who will go on to create his own legacy.
The collection consists of 15 eclectic stories, so let’s run down the list:
- The Dark Path –Wherein Newbury and his former assistant Templeton Black discover the virtues of smoking and an old witch discovers the perils of over-enthusiastic horticulture.
- The Hambleton Affair –Wherein Newbury relates his account of the disappearance of an old school mate’s wife and his discovery of the extent a man may go to to preserve his marriage.
- The Shattered Teacup –Wherein Newbury and Bainbridge investigate the suspicious death of Lord Carruthers and discover the fowl truth of the matter.
- What Lies Beneath –Wherein Newbury takes a constitutional at the home of an English “gentleman” and discovers the gentleman is anything but.
- The Lady Killer –Wherein Newbury meets his match in the form of the lovely Irene Adler Lady Arkwell and discovers that while women are the fairer sex, this particular lady is not willing to play fair.
- The Case of the Night Crawler –Wherein Newbury and Hobbes enlist the help of a certain consulting detective’s biographer to hunt down a mechanical creature bent on revenge.
- The Sacrificial Pawn –Wherein Sir Charles Bainbridge finds himself an unwitting participant in Newbury’s game of chance with a cult by the name of The Cabal of the Horned Beast.
- Christmas Spirits –Wherein Newbury finds himself unintentionally re-enacting a popular Dickens’ tale on Christmas Eve while in an opium daze and discovering that not all spirits bring redemption.
- Strangers from the Sea –Wherein Newbury comes across a long-lost note from a colleague, and the prescient warning contained within while reminiscing about a not so merry trip to the beach.
- The Only Gift Worth Giving –Wherein Sir Charles lends a hand to Newbury and reinvigorates his spirit with a challenge.
- A Rum Affair –Wherein Newbury and Hobbes discover that punch can be spiked with much more than rum.
- A Night, Remembered –Wherein Peter Rutherford makes introductions to both the reader and Maurice and discovers the most disturbing truth behind the sinking of the S.S. Titanic.
- The Maharajah’s Star –Wherein Rutherford meets Professor Angelchrist and discovers that the Maharajah’s Star is more dream than reality.
- The Albino’s Shadow Wherein Rutherford consults with Ms. Veronica Hobbes in his efforts to hunt down one of the most wanted men in the Empire, a peculiarly pale criminal mastermind by the name of “Mr. Zenith.” Little does he know, Zenith is just as interested to meeting him.
- Old Friends –Wherein Angelchrist relates the events leading to his association with Newbury and Hobbes and Rutherford brings a smile to an old man’s face.
According to the author’s notes, each of these stories can be found in other venues, but this is the first time they’ve been compiled into a comprehensive collection. Overall, it’s an excellent addition to Mann’s Steampunk universe, filling in some of the details of Newbury’s past and looking forward to the future of his “Ghost” series of roaring twenties novels, set in a Steampunk inspired New York. Stand out stories include his Sherlock homage, The Case of the Night Crawler and his tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, Strangers from the Sea. My personal favourite is The Shattered Teacup, which brings to mind the best of both Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. It’s a fun murder mystery with obvious Steampunk influence in the clockwork owl that proves essential to solving the case. The only story that falls flat (for me, at least) is What Lies Beneath, but honestly, that owes more to my distaste for epistolary writing than anything Mann did with the story.
The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes is a seamless blend of Victorian detective story sprinkled with Steampunk elements and a dash of the occult. Mann seamlessly captures the flavour of Victorian mystery fiction usually identified with Arthur Conan Doyle while adding his own flourishes to it. It’s a great addition to the universe of Newbury and Hobbes mysteries, fleshing out the series for those fans that want to see a bit more. An added bonus is the inclusion of several new characters, from Templeton Black to Peter Rutherford, and of course, an arch nemesis for Newbury in the form of Lady Arkwell. However, if you haven’t been a follower of Newbury and Hobbes from the start, this may not be the book for you. Simple solution for those who are unfamiliar—get yourselves to a bookstore and catch up on the series before delving into this wonderful back story of Newbury and Hobbes, agents of the crown and occult detectives.