Sir Maurice Newbury is an agent assisting the London police with their investigation of a string of strangulations in a neglected area of the city. The answer to the crime may simply be – elementary. Many reviews of George Mann’s novel Affinity Bridge liken the investigator to that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s laudable character Sherlock Holmes. In many ways, they are right. Both are eccentric masters in acute observation and logical deduction as well as an unspeakable weakness for controlled substances. Holmes relies heavily on his assistant Doctor Watson while the main character Sir Maurice Newbury in Affinity Bridge is aided by his fellow investigator Miss Veronica Hobbes. But what separates Mann’s novel from the older classic is the gadget filled brass and oil steampunk setting.
It’s London, November 1901. Agent Newbury is working for the same crown which has ruled for over half a century. History buffs will note that this is shortly after the death of Queen Victoria. But thanks to Mann, the elderly monarch is alive and well in her wheelchair, animated by a contraption of spinning wheels, groaning bellows and outlandish fluids flowing through her royal bloodstream. All of this is from the creative mind of the unconventional Doctor Fabian, also referred to as The Fixer by those employed in the Queen’s service.
The Queen has a personal interest in the mystery behind the downing of an airship, and commands Newbury to lead the investigation. Splitting his duties between a string of bizarre London murders and the airship disaster, he must rely on his newly acquired associate Miss Hobbes to help share in the task. Just as Watson was to Holmes, the cultivated Hobbes becomes the foil to the more untamed Newbury. Unfortunately, the hazard of this foil becoming the main or stronger character and confusing the reader is evident thought the book.
The two investigators stumble upon magnificent evidence of a ghostly blue policeman, mechanical artificial life forms, and even a zombie plague terrorizing the foggy London nights. Along the way, the success driven airship builder Joseph Chapman and his mad-scientist partner Monsieur Pierre Villiers soon become key persons of interest in their investigations. It is here where the reader discovers that the term “affinity bridge” involves a technological breakthrough which gives a subtle nod to the formidable monster originated by author Mary Shelly.
Leaning heavily on character development already conventionalized by the likes of Doyle, George Mann achieves his most success when he places Affinity Bridge in a world of clockwork wonder laced with outlandish horror. Both the story line and the setting are inspiring enough to encourage the reader to want more. But if Mann wants to separate his work from other laudable authors, he will need to let Newbury and Hobbes develop into more inimitable characters as well as look closer at other keystone characters like The Fixer and Villiers, who accentuate the image of steampunk worlds.