Detective-Inspector Coroner Elijah Beckett is struggling. Not professionally; his team has a reputation for getting their man, or in this case, their Reanimate. Managed by the oddly omniscient Mr. Stitch, Beckett, Skinner and Valentine chase down the people and products of Forbidden Sciences in the name of the Emperor. No, in this case the struggle is from the effects of the fades, the slowly fatal disease that literally disappears one patch of tissue at a time. He’s been controlling the pain that accompanies it with veneine, but it is getting harder and harder to numb the pain without overdosing. It makes him more than a little cranky:
“Gentleman!” he called, putting a reasonable amount of effort into making his voice friendly, and still failing miserably. ‘Becket’ and ‘friendly’ could only under the best of circumstances by the kindest of observes be called more than passing acquaintances.”
A wealthy family has been found murdered in their home, and it looks like the work of the sharpsies, a sapient, human-appearing carnivore whose mouth full of teeth make human speech impossible. But Mr. Stitch is certain it isn’t sharpsies, which sets the coroners on a collision course with one of the noble families and their private armies. When they hire young Alan Charterhouse to advise them on a discovery, things get dangerous.
The city of Trowth is a fascinating place, built up by the Architecture War into crowded houses, roads and bridges built over the top of one another. Because of the layers, the bottom layer is prone to never seeing even the weak sunlight shining on the city of Trowth: “The cab was parked directly in front of the small bridge that led to the house; the front door had clearly once been a third-storey window before Bynam Lane had been built above the crumbling Thurgood Street.”
Early industrial period is clearly the inspiration for Trowth. Horseless carriages are starting to compete with ones drawn by living beasts. Beggars on the street suffer from the fades, poverty and scrave. Able-bodied men are conscripted for war at the front, opera and penny-novels entertain people and the Royal Academy of Sciences researches math.
There’s a little bit of humor here, always appreciated in my reads. Largely, its found in the banter of the team: “Skinner snorted. ‘You’re joking? Only half a dozen people understood it when the church forbid… forbade? When they had it forbidden’ ” and in mocking the mystery penny-novels Alan is so fond of reading. Beckett and Alan are nicely complicated characters. The remaining cast, if not always fully rounded out, remain dimensional enough to enjoy, though a bit short on distaff.
At this point in my life, I mistrust easy. Thanks to Mikhail’s excellent review, I ended up purchasing this engrossing mystery enlivened by a richly detailed culture and dynamic city. There are a few hiccoughs, largely with random punctuation such as hyphenated words and occasional capitalization (‘fades,’ ‘sharpsies’ and ‘church’ seem to vary from lower case to capital) as well as some Kindle formatting errors. Still, for me they weren’t prevalent enough to be bothersome, but it did make learning about the world a little more confusing as I wasn’t sure what was intentional. Braak apparently would like to write more, but is making his living by other artistic endeavors. Someone tell him about Kickstarter or Patreon, because I’d be delighted to read another of Beckett’s penny detective adventures.