Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

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Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard
Doubleday, 2010, 289pp.

Authors are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” But reviewers are rarely asked, “Where do you get your books for review?” Sure, we get free copies from publishers who want to create a buzz for their latest book, but a lot of what we review here at RGReviews comes from our own personal collections (and thus reflects our own tastes and quirks). However, one other place for ideas of what to review comes from the book group I’m a part of. I like to keep abreast of what’s being published in the field — and I think I do a good job at it — but this month’s book club selection was one I hadn’t heard of: Johannes Cabel the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard.

The Detective is the second adventure of the eponymous Johannes Cabal who is a necromancer in a steampunkish Europe of the past (although obviously not our past). The novel opens with Cabal being arrested for trying to borrow an ancient book from the national library of Mirkarvia. Perhaps the fact that he wanted to borrow it permanently and went about removing it from the library at midnight might explain his arrest. More likely, though, is the fact that Count Marechal of the Emperor of Mirkarvia’s bodyguard immediately blackmails Cabal into helping revive the recently deceased emperor to help avert an uprising by giving a speech that would put control in the count’s hands.

Cabal agrees, but turns the speech against the count, resulting in the necromancer having to flee for his life (but at least he has his life with which to flee). Going incognito, Cabal gets on the new airship, the Princess Hortense, bound for the nearby country of Katamenia. Once aboard, though, one of the passengers is murdered and an attempt is soon made on Cabal himself. Cabal finds himself taking on the mantle of a detective to learn what is going on before the body count includes his own. The result is a fast-paced, rip-rollicking steampunk adventure/detective story.

One of the joys of steampunk is the way it is taking on many different voices as it grows as a subgenre. (I’m tempted to say it is becoming its own genre, but that’s a discussion for another day.) In this case, Jonathan Howard has imbued Cabal with a postmodern irony, a looking at everything including himself from a distance. Cabal is highly conceited and so such a point of view is ideal for conveying his hubris and arrogance while also showing his shortcomings, almost all of which he is unaware of.

The ironic stance, though, comes with its downside, and in this case, it distances the reader from Cabal. If the book was any longer, I probably would have had trouble finishing it since I was having trouble liking Cabal — the humor of his arrogance only carries the narrative so far. However, because the book is not too long and the pace so fast, it is not long before the reader sees growth in Cabal’s character (unbeknownst, most likely, to Cabal, however).

I’m glad I stumbled across this book and I’m going to hunt down the first volume and will probably also look for the next in the series.

One Response to “Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard”

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. Will definitely check it out!

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