Steampunk series opener and first U.S. appearance for this U.K.-based writer and editor of various anthologies.
In 1901, Sir Maurice Newbury, a British Museum researcher otherwise employed as an agent of Queen Victoria, investigates such supernatural oddities as the rash of mysterious strangulations in and around Whitechapel, attributed by witnesses to a weirdly blue-glowing policeman. But then Victoria, kept alive only by various steam-powered life-support devices, personally assigns him to look into a ghastly airship crash. With his young, smart, feminist assistant, Veronica Hobbes, and old friend Chief Inspector Sir Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard, Newbury inspects the site of the crash, a vast, odoriferous pile of twisted metal, burned rubber and charred corpses. Oddities swiftly emerge. The passengers were tied into their seats (this may or may not have something to do with the plague currently ravaging the Empire that turns its victims into cannibal zombies). The pilot, a highly advanced brass robot guaranteed infallible by its manufacturers, is missing from the wreckage. Unfortunately, at this point, Sherlock Holmes pastiche threatens to take over, what with Newbury's Holmesian weakness for drugs and Bainbridge's Lestrade-like ineffectuality.
Seething melodrama set against a vividly imagined backdrop; what's missing is a thematic center.