The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (2008, William Morrow & Company)
It’s a rare thing to find something really different. While the story evokes Poe’s character of C. August Dupin, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, television’s Twin Peaks, and more, Jonathan Barnes' debut novel is truly something really different.
In turn-of-the-century London, aging stage magician and consulting detective Edward Moon has grown weary of spinning illusions night after night and longs for the good old days of evil criminal masterminds and derrings-do. Of course, as everyone knows, you should be careful of what you wish for.
From the giant, hairless, mute, milk-swilling, seemingly immortal eponymous character, to a man who lives life in reverse, to a bearded lady of the night, The Somnambulist never fails to deliver characters so interesting and “out there” as to border on the uncomfortable (in the absolute best sense of the word).
The story is delivered at an incredibly breakneck pace, with enough plot twists to make the average season of 24 seem utterly predictable. While this makes for a great story, it can, at times, be an almost exhausting read.
Barnes is an author to watch, and could easily become as gifted a storyteller as Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Clive Barker and others of that nebulous “modern fantasy” genre. If you’re a fan of early 20th century detective stories, old-fashioned pulp action, or just plain bizarre stories, you’ll want to pick up The Somnambulist.
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars