THE AFFINITY BRIDGE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
There is something about alternate history and steampunk that seems to lend itself to a background for mysteries, perhaps because the reader must resolve what has changed between the world of our history and the mechanical, and different, world created by the author. George Mann uses this in The Affinity Bridge to provide a complex mystery sent in a Victorian London in which steamships ply the air and Victoria's own life has been extended through technological means. Sir Maurice Newbury and his new assistant, Veronica Hobbes, split their time between Newbury's occupation as a gentleman researcher at the British Museum and a consulting detective, in service to Queen Victoria. They are working with Scotland Yard on a series of Whitechapel mysteries in which a glowing policeman is taking his vengeance on the poor in Whitechapel when Newbury is suddenly called upon by Queen Victoria to look into a disastrous airship crash in Finsbury Park. Although Newbury and Hobbes do as ordered, their attention is still pulled to the Whitechapel murders, even as they investigate the dirigible factory of Chapman & Villiers, where they learn about the new clockwork automata that were piloting the downed ship. Despite Chapman's insistence that there is no way for the clockwork men to suffer the sort of failure necessary to destroy the dirigible, other evidence indicates that they are being less than forthright. Not content to allow his characters to devote their time to exploring the mystery he has created, Mann also pays some attention to Hobbes's sister, who has been placed in an asylum but can make nebulous predictions about the future. To further complicate the plot, he adds the missing brother of their secretary, Miss Coulthard. With all these threads, Mann can't fully follow all of them, but his cursory mention of the missing Mr. Coulthard or Veronica's visits to her sister, Amelia, give the world he has created added depth. Mann's world has a lot of hooks for future novels or short stories, although at the same time, the London Newbury and Hobbes find themselves in seems to be void of the hustle and bustle one would expect. When people do exist, whether Amelia Hobbes or Newbury's own position with Queen Victoria, it shows that these characters have a lot more to do and to show the reader than is confirmed within this volume. The primary mystery is solvable by following the clues discovered by Hobbes and Newbury, although some of the secondary mysteries don't really provide enough clues for the reader to solve them. Between the strong setting, interesting character relationships, and a worthwhile mystery, The Affinity Bridge is well wroth the time and will leave the reader wanting to know more about this world and its inhabitants.
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