The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwistle
(Book 2 of The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Titan Books, 394pp standard paperback, £7.99 cover price
£3.47 on Kindle (Jan 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
Having really enjoyed the first of these Paranormal Casebooks a while back (The Revenant of Thraxton Hall), I already had a warm and fuzzy feeling about this one, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed…
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has finally killed off his Sherlock Holmes character, and together with some advice from his inveterate friend and companion, Oscar Wilde, is moving forward in his life. With his wife suffering and slowly dying from the dreaded consumption disease, he finds himself falling for the elegant Miss Jean Leckie, a feeling reciprocated by the fetching lass, but their charming tête-à-tête is rudely interrupted when Detective Blenkinsop presents a particularly brutal murder mystery to the esteemed author. A member of Her Majesty’s Government, Lord Howell, has been found smashed to a pulp and practically eviscerated, and the chief suspect happens to be riddled with bullets, and therein lies the mystery, because he’d been hanged a few weeks earlier. Eh?
Before delving further, Sir Arthur calls upon Oscar Wilde for help, and once this remarkable duo start banging their heads together then we can say, indubitably, that the game is afoot, so to speak. Sticking to the successful formula that worked so well in their first outing, namely having Wilde as the grandiose and arrogant showman, and Conan Doyle with his unerring can-do, wild-at-heart approach to everything, we are once again treated to some remarkably witty exchanges between the two characters. Arguably, this marvellous pairing alone is enough to carry the rest of the book, given that the plot is somewhat barmy (and altogether very risqué in places), but it does go to show that strong characterisation can work wonders when the rest doesn’t quite meet the grade.
The plot? Oh yes, reanimated clockwork assassins are being used to pick off members of the mysterious Fog Committee, and there’s an elaborate ploy to try and overthrow the monarchy through riotous movements and anarchic chaos on the fog-riddled streets of Victorian London. There’s a crazy, hedonistic marquess [sic], a gifted toymaker cum clockwork engineer, and yes, even Queen Victoria gets a walk-on part, along with a carriage drawn by four zebras… ahem…
The main reason I like this series so much is the steam-powered London setting, the kooky nature of the narrative and the outright cheek of the author with his fast, fun-tastic dialogue throughout: the clever wordplay and witty repartee between Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde is just so ‘on-point’ that it’s nigh-impossible to fault, stealing the spotlight from what is, frankly, a supernatural quagmire.
I really liked it, and that’s all there is to it – you might too if you give this half a chance… great fun!
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here