In an alternate history of the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria has married Vlad Tepes, better known as Count Dracula, leading to a reign of terror, while, in Whitechapel, Silver Knife, a murderer of vampire girls, threatens the new regime.
Wow! Now that was a trip worth taking. Newman's reinvention of the Dracula mythos, indeed the whole vampire mythos, is a sumptuous and beautifully literate experience.
The basic conceit is simple. What if van Helsing and his followers had failed to stop the Count and he had fully implemented his plan to conquer and rule Britain? Here his marriage to Queen Victoria has brought all of the famous vampires out of hiding and has led to the adoption of vampirism by many within the country from politicians to beggars. Into this society comes the fear and outrage engendered by a spate of murders of vampire whores in Whitechapel by a killer christened first 'Silver Knife' and later, more famously (or infamously) 'Jack the Ripper'.
Newman makes no attempt to hide the identity of his ripper, it's one of the first things the book divulges and instead we are allowed to view, Columbo style, the slow advance of Charles Beauregard, agent of the Diogenes Club, as he investigates and eventually solves the crimes.
This is secondary however to the changes in both society and the individuals around Beauregard. The novel is bigger than a mere whodunnit. There is, in the great spirit of the Diogenes Club's most famous member (along with his brother and his author), a plan most devious, a plot most wonderful and a scheme most subtle that only the most indolent (no offense to Mr. Newman) could have conceived of it.
It's wonderfully written with subtle changes of pace and tone which carry you along as much as the plot. Newman's writing was only known to me through his articles in Empire and his excellent book on Apocalypse Movies so this was a real revelation.
A joy from start to finish. I'm very much looking forward to the second one now but that's not due until April 2012. in the meantime though (September) he's taking a crack at Moriarty which should be excellent fun.