Monday, August 14, 2017

Johannes Cabal the Detective

Johannes Cabal the Detective (2010) is the second novel in Jonathan L. Howard's series featuring the steampunk necromancer. I picked it up at the Friends of the Library Bookstore last December primarily so I could have a second book for the Clocks, Cogs, & Mechanisms Challenge. It helped that it was advertised as "Steampunk meets the classic Sherlockian mystery in this rip-roaring adventure where anything could happen . . . and does." The premise sounded very intriguing.

Johannes Cabal is (as mentioned) a necromancer--he knows all sorts of arcane methods to bring the dead back to "life," albeit very briefly and often (at least in this particular installment) to what seems to be very little purpose. Even in a world of steampunk, his talents are not, shall we say, fully appreciated by the average man or woman on the street and most governments find his occupation distasteful to say the least. Which would be why our first sight of Johannes in this story is of him being held prisoner by the court of of Mirkarvian Empire for attempting to steal (oh, pardon me, "borrow" indefinitely) a rare and mysterious book, the Principia Necromantica, from a local university. 

The Emperor's personal bodyguard was content to allow Johannes to rot away in prison for the remainder of his days, but then the Emperor dropped dead just as plans were being hatched to rouse the peasants into pledging their support for destroying the enemy (that would be anybody the Emperor and company pointed out to them) and taking over whatever neighboring countries they could. How handy to have a necromancer hanging out in the dungeons who can reanimate the Emperor long enough to proceed on schedule. Of course, it will then be necessary to do away with the pesky necromancer immediately thereafter.

Johannes is brought forth from the dungeon, performs a bit of necromancy hocus-pocus, and in the confusion that follows (sometimes reanimations just don't go quite as the customer plans...especially when payment will be in blood--Johannes's), he manages to out-fence the bodyguard and escape. It helps that the re-animated Emperor has somehow incited the peasants to revolt against the Empire instead of wreaking havoc in the Emperor's name. The necromancer heads to the Aeroport, spies a government official preparing to board the newest Aeroship to fly under the Mirkarvian flag--a ship that looks like a cross between a dirigible and an aircraft carrier. Most fortuitously, the government official bears a striking resemblance to our hero and Johannes puts him out of commission, swipes his travel documents and boards the Princess Hortense as Herr Gerhard Meissner, an agricultural civil servant.

He makes it on board without incident and all seems to be going well until he is recognized by the feisty Leonie Barrow--a woman with good cause to dislike him and every reason in the world to denounce him. But she doesn't. Johannes has to wonder what's up. But before he can worry about that for too long, a fellow passenger is dead. It is an apparent suicide; it looks like the man has thrown himself out the window to his death. But Johannes notices a few details that seem to add up to murder and not suicide. He's even more sure when someone tries to toss him off the aeroship as well. He and Leonie team up to try and get to the bottom of the mystery aboard the Princess Hortense. Johannes Cabal is not the only person on board who is not who he seems to be....

Howard has written an entertaining novel of adventure and intrigue filled with sly and witty humor, intelligence, and a fine sense of the absurd. He makes references to adventure, detective, and horror genres with the greatest of ease. It's true that Johannes Cabal is not a warm and fuzzy kind of protagonist. He really doesn't like his fellow human beings very much, but one can't help but like him and root for him to find the person who tried to toss him overboard and discover what's really going on aboard the Hortense. The grand finale which Johannes handles with all the panache of a Hercule Poirot denouement is terrific and the interactions between Johannes and Leonie are worth the price of admission. Overall, the characters are unique and interestingly handled. ★★ and 1/2.

[I'm still dreadfully behind on my reviews--this was finished on 8/2/17.]

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