Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Edward Moon was once the toast of high society in Victorian London, however, a few years have passed since his prime and now Moon's star is in decline. Moon is a mysterious conjurer of sorts who's "Theatre Of Marvels", a thrilling magic show he stars in, is his last source of pleasure...and that too is fading. Aided by his partner The Somnambulist, a silent, giant of a man, they perform their same time-worn routine for a dwindling, yet loyal crowd. The meat and potatoes of the performance is when Moon impales The Somnambulist with multiple swords, yet never drawing a drop of blood.

Moon is not just a simple conjurer though, he is also one of London's finest detectives. This freelance, extra curricular activity has gained him as much, if not more, glory as his magic act in London Society. Moon is dogged by his ever increasing boredom, and a hinted at recent failure in his detective work. All this has landed him in a rut, and he wishes for one more great mystery to solve. Cue a giant, hard to crack case full of lots of ins and outs, and a gristly murder or two and before you know it, Moon and The Somnambulist are on the case.

The book begins with a mysterious and creepy murder scene, and a handful of questions involving Moon's past and the secret of The Somnambulist's stabbing trick. The Somnambulist however for me, failed to deliver on a few fronts. The book's few fantasy elements were never really fleshed out, and served really only to create or move plot elements. I never did find out what went wrong on Moon's last case, and I never found out why the hell The Somnambulist didn't bleed, or die, when he was stabbed. This was a book, for me, that started out with some interesting fantasy and mystery novel elements, then faded down the stretch. Aside from Moon and The Somnambulist, the other characters felt like they were less caught up in the flow of events and more like they were vessels which moved the plot along.

So why did this book get finished rather than going into the Realm of Abandoned Tomes? Well, mainly for the questions I had that never got answered. The real mystery of the book was lukewarm for me, but I am admittedly not an avid mystery reader. I really wanted to know more about the two main characters, and I hung in there for their sake. They were compelling characters and this book had a very Bradybury-esque-Something Wicked This Way Comes feel to me. These things kept me going, but I ultimately felt disappointed in the end.

Being that this is a first novel, it is understandable that there were a few bumps in the road. Perhaps a mystery fan would find more pleasure here than I did, but I don't see myself recommending this one to anyone in the near future.

Grade: C-

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