Steampunk whodunit from the author of the New York–set mystery The Debt (2005).
The soon-to-be-inaugurated Transatlantic Span, the 19th century’s crowning feat of engineering, bridges the Atlantic from Liverpool to distant New York City. Beneath the bridge, on the Mersey docks, a corpse turns up. Inspector Matthew Langton of the Liverpool police finds the body’s face has been expertly sliced away. More troubling still, the victim was dressed as a Span Company security guard but bears the tattoos of a Boer Irregular. Langton, himself traumatized by his own experiences of the Boer War and still grieving for his recently deceased wife, Sarah, wonders if there’s a conspiracy afoot to assassinate Queen Victoria, who’s due in the city in a few days to officially open the bridge. But in that case, why do so many individuals seem keen to suppress the investigation, from Langton’s boss, Chief Inspector Purcell, to the chairman of the Span Company, Lord Salisbury? Worse, key witnesses keep turning up dead, and the press seems remarkably well-informed of the investigation’s progress. Is somebody leaking information? Even more curious, all the victims show strange burn marks on their necks, and Langton is forced to consider a connection to chilling rumors of the soul-snatcher Jar Boys and their elusive underwriter, the mysterious Doktor Glass. Perhaps professor Caldwell Chivers, suspiciously knowledgeable about such matters, or his assistant, the saintly Sister Wright, know something they’re not telling. And what of Maj. Fallows, who represents himself as a Home Office man but clearly is something else altogether? Other than the inherently improbable concept of the bridge itself, Brennan’s backdrop and plot are remarkably well-crafted, with visceral, gritty details, a fascinating set of mysteries and a memorably tormented investigator.
Another reason to rejoice: Finally, somebody’s moved steampunk out of London.