As promised, it is time once again for a book giveaway contest! We have multiple copies to give away this time, thanks to the wonderful people at Doubleday. As a result, we're running this contest in two (two!) places: here at the Steampunk Librarian and also at the Steampunk Empire. You can enter in one or both places. Details on how to enter the contest follow after the review!
Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan L. Howard
Reprinted with permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
Johannes Cabal The Detective is the second book of what I hope is a multi-book series. It began with 2009's Johannes Cabal The Necromancer, in which the titular character found himself running a traveling carnival as part of a deal with the Devil. The second book takes place a short time later and finds Cabal on the run from authorities in the tiny country in Mirkavia, primarily as a result of (unsuccessfully) trying to steal a copy of the Principia Necromantica. Traveling incognito, Cabal lands on the maiden voyage of the Princess Hortense, a zeppelinesque mode of transport. All goes well until a fellow passenger recognizes Cabal, another passenger suddenly and inexplicably departs via a window, and political intrigues begin multiplying. (This is a fairly normal day for Cabal, which gives you an idea of the nature of these stories.)
I've seen a few descriptions of Johannes Cabal The Detective as "Murder on the Orient Express, except on a zeppelin" and it's true that the concept of a murder mystery (with a locked door angle, even) featuring a very limited number of suspects is nothing new. But Cabal, as a protagonist (and occasional antagonist), gives the genre a breath of fresh air, necromancy notwithstanding. In the previous book, Cabal mentions his admiration for Sherlock Holmes, and when he gets a chance to solve a mystery of his own, science and logic run the show. He also has little compunction about shooting people in the head, which makes the plot difficult to anticipate; characters are entirely capable of being eliminated at any moment.
While reading the previous book does help with understanding some inside references and motivations, Johannes Cabal The Detective can stand alone as a steampunky, sardonic mystery/adventure story. Howard is an author who has a wonderful way with wordplay*, and this second installment in the series is just as fun to read as the first. I admit to having a preference for Johannes Cabal The Necromancer, but it's only because I have friends who are carnies and the world of the sideshow, even a demonic one, is more familiar to me than the workings of an aircraft. For the Makers and Tinkerers in the steampunk world, the detailed descriptions of the Princess Hortense's inner workings will be a thing of delight. There are even illustrations of the transport, done in the style of a hobby magazine for boys. I highly recommend the series for anyone with a love of the spooky, the steampunk, and understated British humo(u)r.
* My personal favorite instance of this occurs when a character named Roborovski is compared to a hamster.