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The Somnambulist features Edward Moon, a conjurer most easily compared to Sherlock Holmes, but with a freakish twist. His Watson is an 8-foot-tall mute man named–can you guess?–The Somnambulist. The pair are asked to investigate a bizarre murder in the seamier part of London at the beginning of the novel. Within pages, they have solved the murder. Or have they?
This was a quick, enjoyable read. The characters may have seemed a little like stock characters at first, but they almost always turned out to be something other than they appeared. The plot was well-paced and, for me anyway, the mystery was pretty unpredictable. But, be warned. I picked this up thinking that it might be like The Alienist but set in London with a few sideshow freaks. It starts out that way, but by the end, the book wanders into solid fantasy. That wasn’t a problem for me because I am a huge fan of fantasy, but I know that’s not the case for a lot of mystery fans. But it did go a little over the top for me, which is part of why it’s 3.5 stars instead of 4.5. Also, I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. I like to have everything pretty tidily resolved at the end. I can’t even figure out why the book is titled The Somnambulist instead of The Conjurer except that it sounds cooler.
If nothing else, read the first chapter of this book. It’s only about a page long. Read it while you’re browsing the bookstore or the library. This was the best first chapter I’ve read in a long time. Here’s the first paragraph: “Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.” I was solidly hooked after reading it, and you may find that you are too.
Reviewed May 8, 2008