Saturday, 12 January 2013

Burton & Swinburne in the Curious Case of the Clockwork Man

Mark Hodder

It is 1862, though not the 1862 it should be...
Time has been altered, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the king’s agent, is one of the few people who know that the world is now careening along a very different course from that which Destiny intended.
When a clockwork-powered man of brass is found abandoned in Trafalgar Square, Burton and his assistant, the wayward poet Algernon Swinburne, find themselves on the trail of the stolen Garnier Collection—black diamonds rumored to be fragments of the Lemurian Eye of Naga, a meteorite that fell to Earth in prehistoric times.
Can the king’s agent expose a plot that threatens to rip the British Empire apart, leading to an international conflict the like of which the world has never seen? And what part does the clockwork man have to play?

The first of these Burton & Swinburne books was one of my highlights of last year. That one has set the bar terrifically high for this one.

Chronologically there's only a small gap between the two but mention is made of a few other cases i n the interim. This story is based around the story of the Tichborne affair - a real life court case regarding a claim to the Tichborne fortune. In this version however it is the Rakes (dandy anarchists) faction, under the sway of some ghostly woman, who are attempting to replace the missing heir as part of their wider plan. Their claim is blatantly fraudulent yet for some reason people, including Swinburne, are falling for it hook line and sinker. It soon becomes evident that this is linked with the theft of some black diamonds that Burton was investigating earlier.

As the popularity of the monstrous Tichburne claimant spreads among the working classes of London things start to look decidedly violent and grim.

I really like the way Hodder easily juggles a large cast most of whom have some basis in real Victorian life. Easily my favourite addition to the roster this time off is the philosopher Herbert ('Survival of the Fittest') Spencer. I'm so glad he's staying on board for the duration as he was a delight as a character.

Gripping and enthralling throughout with an ending both satisfying and intriguing. I am so very glad that there was a sequel to Spring-Heeled Jack but also that there's another in the sequence due later this year.

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