John Sinister is not having a good week.
Hired to look into some shady goings on at the airship factory, his investigation has barely begun before people start dying. Soon he’s on the wrong side of some fairly unpleasant people, and that’s before he meets Dexter, the world’s only walking, talking, mechanical cat. That’s when things get complicated.
With secret societies, arrogant aristocrats, and criminal chocolatiers to contend with, John and Dexter will have to keep their wits about them if they’re going to come out of this alive. And if John happens to fall in love with his employer’s daughter along the way, well nobody said catching a killer was going to be easy now did they?
This book is a little different from the books I usually review here. It is a crime story, but it’s also a steampunk / urban fantasy story. It has airships, a whirlygig, mechanical horses that blow up, and a steam-driven self-regulating automaton running an experimental analytical engine, that just happens to be in the shape of a cat.
John Sinister is the scholarship boy who’s not doing so well. Then his one real friend from school, the wealthy Henry Chard, turns up and tells him that there’s ‘trouble at mill.’ In this case, the trouble is at Chard Mechanical, just about the largest engineering firm in the Empire, and seems to be a threat to the business. The next day, Henry is dead, and John is thrust into a world of intrigues he hadn’t expected.
Henry’s father is Donald Chard, an industrialist famed across the Britannic Empire, wealthy, powerful, and a touch strange. Paid by Donald, John starts investigating Henry’s death. With the assistance of a letter of authority from Donald Chard, and the reluctant assistance of the police, notably Detective Hardigan. Only to have the rug pulled from under his feet by Donald’s death. Then Dexter asks him to investigate, claiming John should finish the job he’s already been paid for. And so, together, that’s what they do.
Between the covers of this book, the reader finds the strange inventions of Nomko; the memory and repercussions of John beating the Chess Club (seven games in one); Strange goings on at Caesar’s Coffee and Chocolate club; Agnes Goodenough—who is way more than good enough; and the various other characters who are all well drawn for their purpose on the page.
It’s a romp. It’s an investigation. It’s life and death, loyalty and betrayal. But mostly, it’s the story of a man who doesn’t quite fit getting used to a talking mechanical cat.
Dexter, the cat, has almost all the best lines. Not to mention typical cat superiority and sarcasm.
I loved this book and would highly recommend if you’re looking for something a bit different. There is a second in the series, and I will be reading it sometime.