Review: The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes / Author: George Mann / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
This delightful selection of fifteen short stories – some virtually novellas, some just a few pages long – is an ideal stepping point for newcomers to George Mann’s deliciously evocative steampunk world of Victorian detectives, eerie creatures and clanking machines. Sir Maurice Newbury and his ‘assistant’ Miss Veronica Hobbes are a slightly askew version of Holmes and Watson, operating in the same Victorian England of hansom cabs and choking smogs and of stiff-upper-lipped English gentlemen living in sprawling country mansions, where devious doings are afoot. But Newbury and Hobbes’ world is much more arcane and Gothic, populated by mad scientists, tree-demons and lunatic killers; Newbury, a sometime agent for Queen Victoria, even has his own ‘Irene Adler’ in the shape of the slippery and evasive Lady Arkwell. Oddly enough Miss Hobbes doesn’t get much of a look-in here as most of the stories see Newbury teaming up with one of the series’ many supporting characters such as crusty Detective Inspector Charles Bainbridge and Newbury’s ultimately ill-fated young associate Templeton Black.
The stories are easily accessible in themselves but newbies (like this reviewer) can only benefit from the inclusion of a series ‘timeline’ and a history of the stories – some of which are new and original to this volume – which helps to make sense of the long and convoluted history of the characters. The Casebook chronicles adventures – some of them little more than two-handed conversations between characters – which take place from the end of the nineteenth century to approaching the middle of the twentieth. The very best are the ones which tell an actual tale rather than just add colour and background to already established characters. The best of the long-form bunch are probably ‘The Lady Killer’ in which Newbury is trapped on a crashed Underground carriage with a potential killer on the loose, ‘The Dark Path’ which recounts a mysterious encounter with a living tree-creature and the hugely atmospheric ‘What Lies Beneath’, in which a mechanical tentacled machine heaves itself out of the Thames at the dead of night. Told from the perspective of Dr. Watson, the story features a cameo appearance by none other than Sherlock Holmes himself and beautifully illustrates the antipathy that Mann suggests exists between two Great Detectives operating in smoky London in the same era.
Mann writes with a real flair both for the Victorian Age with all its trappings and the more scientifically advanced early years of the twentieth century where carriages gave way to motorcars, and there’s a real poignancy in some of the later vignettes in which the characters are older and their adventures are recounted as fanciful memories. It’s gorgeous stuff that will appeal to Holmes and Watson and steampunk fans alike.