Friday, May 13, 2016

An Insult to My Intelligence: The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Vol. 1

The Guardian clearly did not read the same book I did.
After I've read a book, I sometimes scan the Amazon customer reviews. They are often funny, especially when they are angry. However, to my surprise, only a few people shared my low opinion of George Mann's steampunk Sherlock Holmes. Many people felt that this collection of short stories was a good introduction to Mann's alternate history. Personally, I felt that my intelligence as a reader was insulted.

Word Choice

I laughed out loud at one review which heralded Mann's writing as "proper English" which young people today needed to be taught. Mann's characters talk in that inflated way people do when they are trying to sound smart. He used derivatives of the word "austere" three times in as many pages. Perhaps he was trying to be ironic, but he just sounds like a college entrance essay relying far too heavily on a thesaurus.

Character Development

Mann also seems to be under the impression that his characters are deep and complex, but they come across as Sherlock Holmes knock-offs. The mystery genre is flooded with genius detectives of various characteristics, but Newbury's only claim to fame seems to be that he is "steampunk" and has a female sidekick who (shocker) is as intelligent as he is.

Setting

However, the steampunk element in this "volume" is limited. The descriptions about the places and people they meet drag, and inspire none of the images of machinery inspired fashion, accessories, or weapons that characterize the genre. There are some steampunk elements in each case: a clockwork owl, a preservation machine, a witch who turned into a tree monster (...what?), but they tend to be minor elements whose function in the story is to have purposes so obscure that the clues they provide are clear only to the "genius."

Plot

That seems to be Mann's strategy for writing these mysteries. Withhold as much information as possible from the reader and then act like his character is some kind of intellectual prodigy when he solves the case with information no one else could possibly have. This is not how Sherlock or Father Brown works. The powers of deduction are here replaced with the power of reveal. Oh, the butler was the victim's long lost brother about whom we were told nothing at all except he died at childbirth. Boy, I'm glad Newbury could figure out that he was alive and vengeful because the clockwork owl hid the broken tea cup!

In conclusion, I found the book impossible to slog through. If you are interested in the steampunk genre and would like to try out Mann, I would recommend starting with something else. There were lots of positive reviews from people who enjoyed his other work. I found him pretentious.

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