The Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes by George Mann is a collection of short stories detailing the supernatural steampunk adventures of detective duo, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in dark and dangerous Victorian London (available September 24, 2013).
This was the first of George Mann’s books that I’ve read, and what caught my eye was the steampunk theme. Even the cover reads, “Science, Adventure, Mystery.” As a lover of them all, how could I pass that up, right? But here’s where it gets interesting. It wasn’t only the aforementioned elements, this book as a whole was pure fun and completely delightful! The world of Newbury & Hobbes is intricate and well thought out, spanming across storylines to intersect with none other than one of the most famous and widely known detectives, Sherlock Holmes.
Another interesting fact is that Newbury has a female sidekick by way of Miss Veronica Hobbes. I loved this aspect, and her character rounds out Newbury and his quirkiness with her clear-headed and logical ways. We see a little of her and their relationship in this anthology, but if you want to read more of her, you can check out the entire Newbury & Hobbes series that starts with The Affinity Bridge and is ongoing, including the latest release, The Executioner’s Heart.
Mr. Mann has edited many anthologies, has a series of mystery novels, and has written a Dr. Who novel, for all of the Whovians out there. He is also slated to write an audiobook featuring Sherlock Holmes, and has contributed to the Holmes mythos in both the short and long form. His extensive biography shows his love of the craft along with the steampunk and mystery genres.
With The Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes, I was able to jump right in and not feel confused or lost, never having read any of the other books. This was due in no small part to the addition of a handy-dandy timeline explaining the series stories and where they fall according to date, so I could see the natural placement and growth of the characters and follow right along. Another addition in the book that I found both helpful and fascinating was the notes at the end. I was excited to finish a story and jump to the back and read Mr. Mann’s notes about the particular story. It was like having the author there, giving me golden nuggets of information. I felt like I was in the know, receiving privileged information.
Many of them carry a certain creepiness due to their gothic settings, nighttime jaunts, and extraordinary tales remembered in darkened smoking rooms. They were each a short mystery solved by Newbury’s wit and cleverness, with the exception of the few that featured different characters, such as Holmes’s very own Dr. Watson. Newbury is a flawed character, strong, but battling his own demons. This makes him seem more real, more organic. His addiction to opium is shadowed by his personal losses. Mann’s attention to detail supplied the appropriate steampunk feel and left me with some very vivid and memorable images. For example, in “The Shattered Teacup”, he describes the most fantastic clockwork owl, one that I continue to picture in my head.
A strange brass object was moving about on the floorboards, its metal feet clacking against the smooth lacquer. It was about the size of a human head, but crafted to resemble a barn owl. Its metallic feathers shimmered in the reflected light of the gas lamps. Newbury watched it for a moment as it paced about, just like a real bird, its head twitching from side to side as it walked. After a few seconds, it turned its head as if to regard him, gears grinding as its glittering, beady eyes adjusted their focus, turning slowly to settle on his face. Then its brass wings clacked and fluttered noisily, and it began to trill again, shuffling off to hide beneath the chair.
I have to have one of these.
In another story, “The Case of the Night Crawler,” John H. Watson finds himself teaming up with Newbury and Hobbes. They're solving a local mystery involving an antagonist which also happens to be a frightening creature, “a beast of the most diabolical appearance, as if it had dragged itself from the very depth of Hades itself.” Mann goes on to set up a chilling scene, in which we see the creature for the first time. Watson says:
I became aware of a low, mechanical sound coming from the river, not unlike the clanking of heavy iron chains being dragged through a winching mechanism.
I ran to her side in time to see two thick proboscises, each about the girth of a man’s torso and covered in scores of tiny suckers like those of an octopus, come probing over the stone lip of the embankment. They squirmed and shifted as if feeling for the best possible hold, and then appeared to latch on to the uneven surface, providing purchase for the beast to heave itself out of the water.
As I watched, the monster slipped its bulk over the top of the embankment wall and raised itself to its full height–at least twenty feet tall–twisting and turning as if trying to decide which direction it should now take. I could see very little of it, other than the silhouette of its mass and the gleam of its wet carapace, catching and reflecting what thin shafts of moonlight fell on it from above.
It was moments like these, where dark monsters and mysteries collided, that I loved the most, and I’m happy to say there were plenty of these moments supplied. These stories were exciting, sometimes scary, and altogether intriguing. I can’t say that I’m usually this satisfied with every story in an anthology, but with this one, I was. The stories were short and plucky enough to hold my attention, and they stopped at just the right time–when I wanted more.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter at @akeller9.