Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle - Catherine Webb

Young Catherine Webb continues to prove she's not a one-book author. Her latest book is the lengthily titled The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle. It's set in Victorian London at the height of the industrial revolution. The eponymous character, Horatio Lyle, is a Special Constable with a passion for science and invention. He's also an occasional, but reluctant, sleuth as he'd far rather be in his lab tinkering with dangerous chemicals and odd machinery, than running around the streets of London trying to track down stolen goods or the thieves who've removed them. However, one day, Her Majesty's Government comes calling and Horatio has to swap his microscope for a magnifying glass (not literally), fills his pockets with things that explode (very literally) and he goes off to unravel a singularly extraordinary mystery, related to a robbery at the Bank of England. Thrown together with a reformed (read: "caught" !) pickpocket named Tess, and a slightly rebellious young gentleman called Thomas, Lyle and his faithful hound, Tate, find themselves pursuing an ancient Chinese plate made of stone, and dealing with a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of polite society, plus dangerous enemies who are not even human.

Webb's creation, Horatio Lyle, has been likened to a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Thomas Eddison, a description that seems very apt. Lyle is amusingly drawn and seems like quite a useful man to have around, so long as you're careful about what he has in his pockets (including test tubes full of chemicals, magnets, dynamos, string, wire and the new sulphur matches !). Thomas, whom Tess crushingly nicknames "Bigwig", is actually an interesting character whom I'm hoping Webb will develop more in the sequel (The Obsidian Dagger: Being the Further Extraordinary Adventures of Horatio Lyle) to this book. Tess is something of a caricature of a young Cockney thief (reminding me a little of Dickens' young thieves in Oliver Twist). However, Webb is clearly a talented young writer who is worth watching closely - and I find it interesting that she seems to prefer writing two book series, rather than trilogies or stand-alone novels; I've already read and reviewed her two-part series Waywalkers and Timekeepers, and I've got the first two-part series she wrote, Mirror Dreams and Mirror Wakes lurking on my current library TBR.

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