Friday, 29 July 2011

The Immorality Engine by George Mann

Sumptuous Delights
This cover is so beautiful I actually want to lick it (but I won't, at least not till it's been sterilized, until then I shall merely caress it fondly like a beloved family pet). In fact the whole series of Newbury and Hobbes covers are incredibly lovely and deserve some sort of award for their fussy Victorian-punk delightfulness, like a delicious raisin scone upon which someone has spread lashings of strawberry jam (always strawberry!) on top of which is precariously balanced an unhealthy dollop of clotted cream. Ahhhhh.

The Inner Workings
Veronica Hobbes is most concerned with the state of Sir Maurice Newbury's health. Sinking further than usual into the dark embrace of his beloved opium, she (along with the help of his dear old friend Chief Inspector Bainbridge) finally feel they have a case to task his brilliant mind and spur him out of this self destructive spiral. The corpse of a renowned burglar has been discovered, but if he is irrefutably dead, then how is he continuing to pilfer stolen goods? And can an assassination attempt on the decomposing (but still quite alive) Queen Victoria as well as Miss Hobbes own troubled sister be linked to the odd case?

Steamy Windows
This is the third installment in the fantastic Newbury and Hobbes series and if your not familiar with them please ignore this post and go find copies of the gorgeous The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual, and once you've stopping stroking the covers lovingly and actually crack them open you will find rip-roaring adventures wrapped around the twisted mysteries inside. So I was rather surprised to find that this long-awaited third chapter failed to spark my interest as fervently as the previous two had. I can't definitively put my finger on what it was about this tale that fell flat for me, maybe it was the ridiculously long wait for it. After purchasing it online in July last year (when the release date was meant to be September 2010) it then failed to materialise until June 2011! And my frantic Googling could not find any reason for the delay, even on the Author’s own website! So by the time it actually arrived (19 months after the last book!) my excitement had rather dwindled.

Regardless, I cannot fault the exceptionally convoluted plot which is a staple of these investigations. The old “dead man witnessed alive and well and up to no good” gambit gets the ball rolling here, but it soon starts gathering threads and ends of other seemingly unrelated mysteries and pretty soon it’s all so beautifully tangled that only a series of explosions, insane knights of the realm and one giant mech can make sense of it. It was a great story and I doff my cap to Mr George for stuffing this book so full with these ideas.
"Newbury's eyes flickered back to her face 'Indeed. It begs the question of who exactly would be out to make such an attempt on my life. Either Sykes really is still out there, somehow, and knows I'm on to him, or someone else has control of his machine and is using it for their own increasingly nefarious purposes.'
  Veronica stepped back, her hands on her hips. Sometimes she found it difficult to stomach the sheer arrogance of men. 'I think that upon reflection, Sir Maurice, you will find the intended victim of any such assassination attempt was, in fact, me. This is my apartment, after all.'"
Unfortunately where it sort of fell down for me were the characters, apart from the odd rare moment (as above) these did not feel like the same Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes of old. Granted much has happened between them and they clearly have trust issues to sort out (if they’d only bloody admit it). But it felt like Sir Newbury barely had a chance to show off his wonderfully big brain with all it's sparks of intuition and Miss Hobbes’ usually charming practicality in the face of danger; seemed to disintegrate under her growing anxiety for her sister. I kept hoping Sir Maurice would shake off the opium fuelled self pity he was wallowing in and get to solving the mystery. But it was mostly left to Miss Hobbes to do some blind snooping and Inspector Bainbridge to do all the actual research (no to mention some spectacular fisticuffs) and then after no time at all it just sort of ended.

This book felt more like a brief episode then a fully fleshed out story to me, and many of the 'great plot reveals' I had worked out ages before the characters did. But this will definitely not keep me from reading the future adventures of Newbury and Hobbes, I just love their crazy world too much.