The second entry in the series focuses on inner London, with a steampunk, resurrectionist twist. It’s 1895 and the industrialist Victorian era has reached fever pitch. Factories are making their owners rich — and keeping their workers poor and desperate. Anarchist plots are a dime a dozen. Queen Victoria is a commonly named target of their violent anger. Carefully placed bombs terrorize the British citizenry.
Then a man highly placed in Her Majesty’s government is assassinated — and the culprit is a man who was hanged in Newgate Prison days before. Doyle’s assistance is requested and he enlists his old friend Oscar Wilde to help him catch the killer.
Entwistle pulls from real life to craft the unlikely story. Anti-Irish sentiment, anarchists, industrialization, assassination attempts on the Queen, and harsh punishment from the court system were common for the day. He uses all of this unrest as a shifting foundation for the macabre steampunk plan that is unfolding.
Their adventure involves narrow escapes and ingenuity. But perhaps most importantly, the duo maintains a quick repartee that is both humorous and believable.
The hackney carriage dropped them in Fitzrovia neighborhood of central Condon. As he stepped down, Conan Doyle happened to glance back up the stretch of Mortimer Street in time to see a familiar pair of bowler-hatted figures descend from a hansom.
“Damn and blast!”
“Whatever is it?”
“We’ve been followed by Cypher’s bully boys. they must have been lurking outside of Cafe Royal. Do you see the two large gents in bowlers? I call them Dandelion and Burdock. … Go to the end of the street and then cross over and double back. Lose yourself in the crowd. Dodge into a shop doorway now and again. Try to be inconspicuous.”
Wilde flashed a deeply wounded expression. “Inconspicuous? Moi? Now you go to far, Arthur. Oscar Wilde has many hues to his palette but inconspicuous is not amongst them.” ~Pg. 144-5
Even in the most dire of situations, the two trade barbs.
Conan Doyle flipped open the small volume and scanned a few lines. It seemed pretentious gobbledygook. “Have you read it?”
“I read the first sentence. It contained a semicolon. I could read no further. The semicolon is unquestionably the ugliest piece of punctuation in the English language. It is neither a full stop nor comma, and as such as a mongrel construction. Furthermore, no one from Jonson forward can agree upon its use. I ceased reading.” ~205-6
The two were friends in real life — through they presumably avoided being attacked by reawakened criminals bent on the destruction of civilization. (Watch this short video with Stephen Fry on their friendship.)
While the book requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, it is worth it. Watching these fantastic minds traipse around England, trying to save it from the brink, is simply fun. As an obsessive of Sherlock and Doyle, I am always pleased when a story can leave the canon alone while evoking the adventure the original stories. Those who enjoy Victorian steampunk fiction will also be most pleased.
Series: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Book 2)
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (June 9, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches