Third Victorian occult/steampunk adventure for Queen Victoria's special agent Sir Maurice Newbury, his doughty sidekick Veronica Hobbes and their bluff, tough counterpart, Chief Inspector Sir Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard (The Osiris Ritual, 2009, etc.).
Their latest case begins with a corpse: apparently that of Edwin Sykes, burglar extraordinaire, whom Bainbridge suspects of being behind a string of unusual thefts. Newbury, dragged from an opium den—he thinks it gives him psychic powers, and he's also consumed with the suspicion that Veronica is an informer—confirms that the body is who it seems to be. Yet there are inconsistencies, and when another crime comes to light, done in Sykes' inimitable manner (he uses a spider-like machine to drill through doors and obstacles), all three are baffled. Veronica, meanwhile, desperately worries about her frail sister Amelia, who suffers from uncontrollable seizures during which she experiences prophetic visions. Presently Amelia enjoys the care of Dr. Lucien Fabian of the Grayling Institute. All charm on the surface, Fabian is secretly doing horrid experiments on Amelia and drawing up delusional plans based on her utterances. Another complication, and somehow implicated in the Sykes affair, is Sir Enoch Graves and his Bastion Society, whose insanely chauvinistic theories involve far more than deadly mechanical spiders. Worst of all, Veronica really is informing on Newbury to Queen Victoria, a dying, mad hulk kept artificially alive by one of Fabian's repulsive machines. More steampunk than occult this time—one character, for instance, has steam-powered artificial knees—and rather too many gloating megalomaniacs for comfort.
Still, it's a rousing adventure, and Newbury/Hobbes fans will revel.