My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As usual, I received this book because somebody gave it to me for free. In this case, the author approached me directly with a copy of the whole trilogy as one volume. Despite this kind consideration, I give my candid opinions below, as will quickly become self-evident.
Firstly, a few general comments and a readers recommendation. It is suggested that you read this book in the following manner: read the first chapter and allow the oddness of it to roll around in your head for a few moments. Then sally you forth unto Wikipedia and read the real events as recorded by history. Smirk bemusedly at yourself for a few seconds and then continue to read the rest of the novel. Anything less enigmatic than that is left as exercise to the reader.
On the positive side, our author has picked an fascinating episode of history for his target. Saying more than that will spoil the fun but it is my considered opinion that historical fiction is best when it starts out with some reality that is abundantly screwball in its own right and expands upon it in a realistic way. I won’t go so far as to say that this book is a potential truth of the matter, but the thread of the tale has a pleasant glow of vague plausibility to it that fits well with the genre. Furthermore, the book is easy and accessible but still endeavors to expand the reader’s knowledge of history (and vocabulary) without any significant missteps. The author has done his homework, despite what other reviewers may say to the contrary.
On the negative side, the novel does suffer from some fairly significant editorial woes. At times it’s difficult to tell who the narrator of a given passage is and transitions in time and place are sometimes hard to pick up on. The text is rife with historical references but at times so rife that they feel rather forced. I appreciate the author’s research but one doesn’t have to stuff everything he knows about 19th century life into one book. Lastly, during our dramatic climax the book reads more like an Abbott and Costello routine than a serious mystery novel. As a reader I’m happy to accept either but it is generally preferred if the author picks one or the other and sticks with it.
In summary, this is a very well conceived novel but it must be remembered that readers of the mystery genre especially are punctilious beasts that will pick apart every detail of every sentence you write. They have to because they must find the answer before the end arrives. That’s rather the point of reading a mystery novel. So while this novel is generally good, it’s not quite up to the standards of its chosen genre. As a first novel it’s a brilliant initial step though and I look forward to the next two in the series.