Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Johannes Cabal the Detective
One of the many, many problems with current genre fiction is a lack of a sense of humor, as everyone today seems to take themselves very seriously, beyond the demands of what they are writing. It’s refreshing, therefore, to come across a playful, humorous novel such as Johannes Cabal the Detective, written by Jonathan L. Howard.
Set in a steampunk milieu and an imaginary 19th century Europe, this is the second book featuring the title character Johannes Cabal. He is a somewhat disreputable necromancer, a man of science capable of bringing the dead back to life, at least briefly. This work often goes awry, which is why cabal carries a heavy cane, with which to bludgeon failed experiments back to death. He is at best indifferent to mankind, and at worst actively misanthropic.
When the story opens, Cabal is imprisoned in a dungeon in the fictional country of Mirkavia, awaiting execution for attempting to steal a rare book on necromancy. He is resigned to his fate, but gets an eleventh hour reprieve when Count Marechal offers him his freedom. It seems that the Emperor of Mirkavia has just expired, and Marechal needs him brought back in order to give a speech which will incite the people of Mirkavia into a war Marechal desires. Marechal plans to double-cross Cabal, of course, but then again, Cabal plans to double-cross Marechal, too.
The escaped Cabal flees Mirkavia in a dirigible, where his curiosity about an on-board homicide makes him a target for murder as well. Together with his companion/foil Leonie Barrow, Cabal must uncover the murderers identity and ultimately thwart the Mirkavian plot in order to be free to carry on his diabolical experiments.
Cabal is a great character. Self-centered and blithely unconcerned about the well-being of others, he has few likeable traits, but nevertheless captivates the reader and forces you to root for him. The humor is sometimes subtle but effective – there is a gag near the beginning of the book involving cat shaving that made me laugh out loud – and it was an altogether enjoyable read.
This is the second in a planned series of books about Johannes Cabal, the first being Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, which I will be sure to seek out.