I don’t remember how, exactly, I stumbled onto George Mann. I think it was via Jeff Vandermeer’s blog – I saw the cover art for The Affinity Bridge and thought “wow – that looks cool.” I didn’t do anything about the book, though, until almost a year later – when I picked up a beautiful hardcover slipcase edition (Snowbooks really understands the-book-as-object) and devoured it. Did the same with the sequel and I am eagerly anticipating the next four Newbury & Hobbes Investigations (The Immorality Engine, of course – but he’s apparently been contracted for at least three more, in addition to this new series).
Ah, yes, I get ahead of myself. This new series: The Adventures of The Ghost. Shifting from 1890s London to 1920s Manhattan, Mann stays in the same steampunk alternate universe – complete with coal-powered cars, airships, and clockwork automatons. The feel is still pastiche, although this time its more classic radio serials (The Green Hornet springs to mind) than Holmesian mystery. None of this is a bad thing, though at times it ends up seeming a little predictable.
Still, some predictability isn’t bad. The “secret identity” of The Ghost is beyond obvious to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the Batman mythos and Mann’s attempts at subterfuge are, at times, a little trying. However, he gives it up around the halfway point and the ‘reveal’ is actually quite satisfying. The characters are all relatively stock 20s characters and the description gets a little repetitive – I think I could only hear about “gobbets of flesh” spewing from bullet wounds a few more times… – but the whole is, not surprisingly, greater than the sum of its parts (that seems to be a theme suddenly).
The set piece in the Metropolitan Museum is a great one and the final twist – something that I, like The Ghost and just about everyone else, thought couldn’t possibly be real – is from left-field but from a left-field that makes sense, for some reason. I thought things were tidied up a little too well with Celeste’s revelation and that was a jarring and unsatisfactory gear in the ramp-up to the end… but everything else about the ending felt right. It felt solid. And like all the best superhero tales, the ending sets up the next story. Actually, it felt just like the end of Batman Begins – the detective and the hero, teamed up without anyone on the force actually knowing, discussing what comes next. It was predictable and a lot of people will probably find it trite… but I loved it.
Rating: 3 out of 5. A lot can be said for diverting entertainment. Mann’s prose is sometimes a little alienating – I never feel pulled into the book until about 3/4 of the way through – and it gets repetitive at times and the plot isn’t going to surprise anyone… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, exciting, enjoyable. Its a quick read and a fun one – exactly what I needed. It just wasn’t anything spectacular, you know?