by Mark Hodder

Pyr, $16.00, 373 pages

Mark Hodder’s remarkable debut novel The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is a rollicking ride through the underbelly of the steampunk world. King Albert of England, the widower of the assassinated Queen Victoria, has a very remarkable agent. Sir Richard Francis Burton. The world-famous explorer has agreed to investigate an apparently insane figure, which haunts the smoggy, toxic morass of London’s poorest neighborhoods. Jolly old England has undergone a technological revolution, with genetically engineered animals, and coal powered marvels. London is a turbulent, violent, ecological mess, where life is cheap and the only the rich thrive. Oh, and there’s a simple matter of werewolves to look into as well.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack slowly introduces us to the real-life 19th century figure Sir Richard Burton who is dragged into two-fisted action, along with his troubled friend, the poet Algernon Swinburne. Along the way, we’re introduced to a compliment of Baker Street Irregular eyes and ears. Hodder gives us a thorough run down on English politics in the period 20 years after the assassination of the Queen, incorporating real and imaginary events and people. If it sounds hard to understand, it’s not. If you enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, and thought that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have done with a time-traveller and few more werewolves, this book will appeal to you.

Reviewed by Brad Wright