Johannes Cabal The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard. Poirot has competition.

Johannes Cabal the Dectective

Read February 2016
Recommended for fans of arrogant detectives, dry British humor
 ★    ★    ★    ★  1/2

Safe to say, no one has gone through such travails to read a book as Johannes Cabal. Of course, he didn’t only mean to read it:

Cabal had been caught trying to check out a book from the library… The book was in the Special Collection, and Cabal had intended the loan to be of an extended, open-ended sort of period.

I’ll wait, while the librarians amongst us recover themselves.

Caught by a Mirkarvian Count, Cabal uses his necromancer skills to distract the Count and escape by assuming the persona of a bureaucrat, Herr Meissner. He escapes on a luxury aeroship on a mercy mission delivering vegetables to the neighboring country, only first they have to pass through the mildly hostile country of Senza. During the flight, Cabal becomes embroiled in a locked-room mystery when the original designer of the aeroship goes missing: “The curious case of the defenestrated DeGarre and the adventure of the ersatz civil servant were inextricably linked.

I began reading in a cranky state of mind, but my ill-temper paled in comparison to Cabal’s: “As for humanity, anything I do for it is purely by accident.” Before long, Cabal’s arrogance and Howard’s wit had me not only feeling better about my relatively benign curmudgeonly state, but outright laughing. Howard nicely set up Cabal’s adventures, segueing him into being forced to solve a locked-room mystery. Cabal’s tribulations are worsened as he is forced to interact with a familiar face and the tiniest twinges of his underdeveloped conscience. In this book, we get to see Cabal shaken to his core:

“Whosoever would do such a thing to my nimpty-bimpty snookums?”
Cabal could not have been more horrified if she’d pulled off her face to reveal a gaping chasm of eternal night from which glistening tentacles coiled and groped. That had already happened to him once in his life, and he wasn’t keen to repeat the experience.

Howard’s writing appeals to the intellect, a deft mix of cleverness and blasé exaggeration. It isn’t really a book I sit down and devour, impatiently leaping from page to page. This is a book that I read carefully, not wanting to miss a word-play or reference. Subtle and not-so-subtle humor abounds. Given the humor, Howard still manages to do some really remarkable things with emotion. Cabal is incredibly reserved, repressed even to himself, and generally thinks of nothing but his own skin, so it is interesting when he has to wrestle with his deeply buried humanity. There was a death that was dealt with beautifully, both by Cabal and by his witness, with a line so perfect in its emotion, it stopped me flat:

His corpse was pathetic, in that it inspired pathos, and pitiful, in that it aroused pity.

The mystery is neatly wrapped up in a classic Poirot denouement, but the final resolution initially leaves the reader hanging. An afterword notes the journey home was “uneventful in all respects, unless one counts the business with the spy and the bandits and the Elemental Evil and the end of the world as we know it.” It brought to mind the unsatisfactory passage in Wise Man’s Fear where Rothfuss alludes to a pirate adventure, and I wondered if Howard was poking fun. Alas, I don’t think so–The Detective was 2010 and WMF was 2011. Still, Howard is much kinder to the readers and provides a thoughtful account for those people who “might like to hear about spies and bandits and all that.

Ultimately, quite satisfying. I finished with my spirits lifted and view of humanity marginally improved. Still, I’ll be trying to find a way to work a new insult into a conversation:

“A hatchet-faced customs official… strode up to Marechal, having instantly discriminated between the monkey and the organ-grinder.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Mystery and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Johannes Cabal The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard. Poirot has competition.

  1. neotiamat says:

    This is my favorite of the Johannes Cabal books. The others are pretty good, but Howard just manages to hit note perfectly in this one.

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