This book is a collection of short stories centering around Sir Maurice Newbury and his determined partner, Miss Veronica Hobbes, from mysteries to the macabre with a steampunk flavour throughout.
It also has an assorted set of characters weaving in and out of some of the stories, including Detective Inspector Charles Bainbridge; Newbury's sometimes arch nemesis, Lady Arkwell; and the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The book starts with a tale featuring Newbury's first partner, Templeton Black, whose death helped to define Newbury's character in book one, "The Affinity Bridge". His death has always been Newbury's biggest regret and the author wanted to show how Sir Maurice was before he lost his partner and to let Templeton have a story to actually shine, as all references to him in the past have only been centered around his death.
One story has Newbury sitting back with Bainbridge to retell a suspenseful tale about an old schoolmate whose young bride vanished without a trace. It's the first short story that Mann ever wrote, and basically picks up from the closing pages of book one.
A story set about the middle timeline of the book series has Dr. Watson teaming up with Newbury and Hobbes instead of Sherlock Holmes. Though Watson thinks he's finally gotten one over on the great detective, Holmes is aware and pulling the strings in the background, considering Newbury a bit of a rival.
There is even a tale that is a bit of a riff on "A Christmas Carol", with Newbury befuddled by opium on Christmas Eve and hallucinating spectres of Black, Bainbridge, and Hobbes (past, present and future), with a bit of foreshadowing to what's to come in book five.
Mann even includes the origin story of Clarissa Karswell aka Lady Arkwell who was born out of Mann's desire to have a sparring partner for Newbury. He wrote the first half of it a few years before this book, shelved it, then returned to finish it when he decided to put together this set of stories as he thought her origin would be a nice addition.
The author, George Mann, wrote these tales in many different styles: some in first person, some as flashback retellings, one even told in an epistolary format. It worked well and was an entertaining collection. I really enjoyed getting some extra back story on several of the characters, such as when Newbury's growing obsession with the occult caused him to steal a dangerous book of ritualist magic from a devil worshipping cult called the The Cabal of the Horned Beasts, provoking them to seek revenge. This story serves as a prologue, of sorts, to the fourth novel in the series, "The Executioner's Heart". It also shows the revenge played out in full in the fifth book, "The Revenant Express".
The rest of the stories in the book fit into the series at different intervals, for which the author is good enough to include a timeline at the back of the book.
If you are a fan of mystery, steampunk or the macabre, this is a good read; and if you are a Newbury and Hobbes fan, this is a great one. ~~ Dee Astell