Title: A Case of Poisons
Author: Hazel B West
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery, steampunk
My rating: 2/5 stars
Anthony Maxwell is a private investigator, a consultant for the mostly incompetent inspectors at Scotland Yard, on occasion a writer, and always a lover of coffee. He has been working small cases for several years to pay the bills when he’s introduced to the first multiple murder case of his career early one morning, when a witness catches a man trying to unload a body to bury in a nearby graveyard. Soon the first body is joined by three more in the course of a single morning and Anthony knows this is no ordinary serial murder case. And why is the murderer targeting beggars and urchin children? If that wasn’t cause enough to worry, all the victims are covered with horrible wounds and show signs of exotic poisoning. Anthony, along with his partners Tobias—an ex-broadsman and well-know charmer—and Scamp—a street smart and talented young woman—work to find out who is murdering the helpless beggars and children in such horrifying ways. The first book in this new Victorian steampunk series takes the three companions to the limits of their abilities as they go up against canny murderers, bruisers who appear invincible, anarchist groups, and even ancient British royalty in the biggest case Anthony Maxwell has ever worked in his career.
I thought the premise of this book was very interesting - I enjoy mysteries, stories that take place in the Victorian era, and steampunk, all of which this story has. Somehow I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would.
A Case of Poisons is the story of Anthony Maxwell, a detective in an alternate Victorian era who is faced with a mystery involving seemingly random victims of poisoning. The effects of the poisons are terrible and gruesome, and Maxwell must discover the motive and the killer soon - or even more innocents will die horrific deaths.
This story rubbed me the wrong way starting with the prologue - it framed the novel as the main character, Maxwell, relating (with embellishments) his adventures. Some of the sentences just really annoyed me - "I will warn you now, this story is not for the faint of heart: it is dark, it holds unknown horrors, and villains you would never wish to find in your dreams in the night - but, if you're like me, then I suppose this warning might just make you wish to read this book all the more." The whole "unknown horrors" and "faint of heart" business made me put on my skeptical face before the story had even begun, and the not-so-subtle way the author used Maxwell as a projection of herself was really annoying. I decided to clear my head of this very contrived prologue so I could give the rest of it a fair shot.
There were a couple of errors and typos that took away from the novel because it seemed like whoever had done the editing hadn't done a good job at all. One such error was: "I liked her metal" instead of "mettle" (ch 2). I was also annoyed by the chapter subtitles, which read something like, "in which we do this, this, and this." While this is a charming addition to some novels, the subtitles added nothing to the story and didn't make me want to read the chapter to see how everything would play out. The subtitle was so ordinary that I in fact was tempted to skip the chapter because it seemed like everything was already explained.
I was also confused about the world, since Maxwell speaks in a very proper Victorian dialect but terms like "microbiology" and "up the ante" are thrown in. It's also barely steampunk except for a bunch of mentions of a "contraption", presumably an automobile. In the acknowledgments the author mentions that it's steampunk because of the weapons and the engineering of poisons, but I didn't find these elements prominently modern enough to count as such.
I think my main problem with this novel is that I didn't connect with the characters enough to care about their story. Generally there are so many events that happen within a very small span of time, so you barely register them. It seemed like the majority of the "horror" of this novel involved that pathos one is supposed to feel for murdered children, but since "THINK OF THE CHILDREN" was brought up so many times, I stopped caring for them as well (heartless, I know).
Overall, this novel had a lot of potential, but didn't stand out as a particularly compelling piece of historical fiction, mystery, or steampunk.
* A free copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review*