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The Somnambulist    by Jonathan Barnes order for
by Jonathan Barnes
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Travel back to Victorian London and meet the enigmatic Edward Moon, an occasional sleuth and a fulltime conjurer who has performed nightly magic shows for a number of decades with the silent assistance of the Somnambulist, a freakishly hairless, large, milk-guzzling fellow who - if the rumors were true - stood well in excess of eight feet tall.

Moon's already unusual daily routine is about to become even more peculiar when the newspaper headlines make an ominous announcement about the recent death of Cyril Honeyman:


Because of Moon's reputation as a top-notch amateur detective, Scotland Yard's Detective Inspective Merryweather, bewildered by the paucity of clues in Honeyman's gruesome murder, turns to Moon (and the Somnambulist) for assistance. Moon soon realizes that Honeyman's murder is no ordinary crime. In fact, Moon warns that 'we're on the edge of something terrible {...} something grisly and gothic and bizarre.'

When a second man (Philip Dunbar) is thrown from the tower, and when Moon identifies the alleged perpetrator of the two murders (a sideshow attraction known as the Human Fly), Moon quickly realizes that the nasty little homicides are merely clues to the real mystery. In fact, information leads Moon to suspect that an insidious, malignant plot is at work against the entire city of London. Drawn into the relentless maelstrom of London's strangest and darkest levels, Moon and the Somnambulist must negotiate a monstrous, malevolent, and uniquely twisted topography (ineffably drawing upon the shadowy past, the disturbed present, and - most improbably - the endangered future), and what they ultimately discover is extravagant, comic, terrifying, supernatural, and incredible.

Readers of The Somnambulist deserve fair warning: this skillful and literate blending of detective novels, macabre thrillers, and grotesque horror tales demands a willing suspension of disbelief - and that, by the way, is a tremendously important clue to this spectacular, strange novel in which English Romanticism, gothic adventures, and the Victorian penny-dreadful are seamlessly morphed into a fantastic, surreal narrative! As if using the services of a 19th century spiritualist medium and fiendishly drawing upon the spectral influences of Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Jorge Luis Borges, debut novelist Jonathan Barnes has concocted a sublime, mind-boggling, not-to-be-missed literary feast.

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