Be warned. This book has no literary value whatsoever. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.
Once the toast of good society in Victoria’s England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect or inspires the awe that once did. Despite having unraveled more than sixty perplexing criminal puzzles, he is considered something of an embarrassment these days. Still, each night without fail, he returns to the stage of his theatre to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling audience with the same old astonishments – aided by his partner, the silent, hairless, hulking, surprisingly placid giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed…and who goes by but one appellation: The Somnambulist.
On a night of rolling mists and long shadows, in a corner of the city where only the most foolhardy will deign to tread, a rather disreputable actor meets his end in a most bizarre and terrible fashion. The police turn once again to Edward Moon – who will always welcome such assignments as an escape from ennui. And, in fact, he leads the officers to a murderer rather quickly. Perhaps too quickly. For these are strange times in England, with the strangest of sorts prowling London’s dank underbelly: sinister circus performers, freakishly deformed prostitutes, sadistic grown killers in schoolboy attire, a human fly, and a man who lives his life backwards. And nothing is precisely as it seems.
The Somnambulist is a Victorian mystery with a slight paranormal edge. Edward Moon is an egotistical stage magician, and not the most likable creature at first, but more is revealed about him as the story unravels. As for his mute companion, the Somnambulist, we don’t learn much until the end. Barnes’ London is fantastically creepy, with a menagerie of quirky and sometimes foul characters. The detail is beautiful and dark.
The mystery is set up as a Holmes-ish romp through London…at first. About halfway through the book, things take a turn for the weird. The story is anything but simple. The ending is so far out of where you thought the plot was headed that it almost seems as if a different author picked up the thread and finished the book. It was a bit confusing at first. Even so, I enjoyed it, and I liked the way the story descended into chaos. When the narrator is finally revealed, things start to fall into place.
And if they don’t, well, there was a warning at the beginning of the book.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars – excellent