The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (A Newbury and Hobbes Investigation #1)

Steampunk is at the heart of this first novel from the man who penned the Ghost series of novels and audio scripts for BBC's Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Maurice Newbury is in the midst of a problem with one of his current cases, and is trying to make sense of what he would normally see as nothing more than simple hocus-pocus. A glowing policeman has been seen at night, with several people murdered in the London area. With so much change happening in the city during Victorian times, this has become the era of new technology, clockwork automatons and airships lead the way, but Newbury still has to think hard on the evidence he is presented with.

Newbury is a rational man who doesn't believe in séances or tarot readings but finds rational explanations for what evidence he has, which for him is becoming a bit of a headache. Newbury and his assistant Miss Hobbes have to investigate the policemen strangler killings and a series of assaults by what are known as Revenants, or zombified humans on the prowl. By order of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, they are sent to investigate a crash site in Finsbury Park.

What we first notice about Newbury is that he - like Sherlock Holmes - is a thorough man, meticulous in his detection as is Miss Hobbes a meticulous woman, whom he has high regard for, and more so than most women of that era would have got from their superiors. He tells Stokes, the representative of the Air Transportation Services that Miss Hobbes should be given all the considerations a man would have in investigating the incident.

The Lady Armitage airship is under investigation as there could be many reasons for why it had gone down. Chapman is sure that his automaton pilots had nothing to do with the incident, and can’t have caused the crash. Chapman is also certain that automatons are the way forward for the country, and that both rich and poor will benefit from having them around, but Newbury has his reservations. The most peculiar thing is that the pilot of the Lady Armitage has since gone missing and when Newbury suggests that the automaton could have gone on the run after somehow becoming sentient, it might sound absurd, but that is exactly what he is suggesting. Chapman explains using some of his own automaton units that it could not have committed such an act as it operates solely by receiving complex orders through voice commands or punch cards pushed into the back of the unit.

Many will think it sounds farfetched, but as there is a lot of fantasy in Mann’s previous works, readers will not be surprised to find the element of fantasy here as well as steampunk. However, as Newbury and Hobbes are practical people, there must be an explanation as to why the automaton disappeared. As well as the basic story of the missing automaton, Mann gives Newbury and Hobbes some personal problems.
Newbury tries to cope with his morphine addiction and carries on regardless, even hiding it from his companion and fellow sleuth while Hobbes has her sister, Amelia, who lives in an asylum. While they believe she is insane, Hobbes knows the truth is she can predict the future and has done in the past. She is also outraged that her parents even sent her there and even less happy that they refuse to visit her. It is up to Hobbes to make monthly visits, hoping that Amelia will make some kind of progress. This aside, Amelia does show her a sign of a dark near future after Newbury is attacked by revenants, nearly losing his life.

Mann leads readers through the main case that is the most pressing issue of the century involving queen and country, spending time being thrown off the scent, then pushing them back on the trail of the perpetrator. Newbury and Hobbes provoke the fear in others to act, even if they don’t want to. Mann knows how to write a gripping novel full of darkness and despair as we watch the protagonists push their way through the thick fog of Victorian London and their case.

8/10 A gripping novel full of darkness and despair.

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