BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Newbury and Hobbes take on cases involving bizarre murders, rogue agents and disappearing women.
PROS: Well-conceived mysteries; no-nonsense writing style; combines several elements (supernatural/steampunk/mystery) that yield a palatable flavor.
CONS: The advertised supernatural element is a MacGuffin.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery that will appeal to both Sherlock Holmes fans and steampunk fans.
George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes stories are wonderfully imagined Sherlock Holmes pastiche pieces sprinkled with a liberal dash of steampunk. Sir Maurice Newbury, Special Agent to Queen Victoria, and Victoria Hobbes, his able assistant, were first introduced in the marvelous book The Affinity Bridge which mixed Victorian mystery, steampunk, and zombies. Newbury returned, albeit briefly, for the short story “The Shattered Teacup“. Now Newbury and Hobbes are both back to solving strange mysteries in The Osiris Ritual.
The three-pronged plot here involves mysterious murders surrounding an Egyptian mummy, a rogue agent who has been mechanically augmented, and a series of women gone missing from a magician’s stage act. Each of these story lines hints at the desired mixture of flavors of The Osiris Ritual: the mummy providing the supernatural ingredient, the augmented agent representing steampunk, and the disappearances lending the air of mystery. The success of the novel thus depends on the balance of the supernatural/steampunk/mystery combination and how well they interrelate. And to be sure, there is no doubt that these seemingly separate plots will intersect, it’s just a matter of when Mann’s straightforward, no-nonsense delivery will do the reveal while it supplements the story with an intriguing subplot about Hobbes’ institutionalized sister and advances the relationship (personally and professionally) between the two central characters.
The supernatural element is, sad to say, a bit of a MacGuffin. While there are many hints at the occult activities surrounding the titular ritual and its ability to resurrect the dead, we never actually get to see any proof that any of that has actually happened. There’s lots of hand-waving in that direction — and grisly ritualistic murders, which only hint at the supernatural — but ultimately the supernatural element is a tease that doesn’t solidify. More promising is the side story of Hobbes clairvoyant sister, which undoubtedly lays the groundwork for future paranormal story lines.
The steampunk elements are more prevalent than the supernatural, though perhaps to a lesser degree than they were in The Affinity Bridge. Instead of being part of the foreground, the steampunk exists mostly as backdrop; one notable exception being an exhilarating (though partly unbelievable) steampunk car chase. It still serves its intended effect, though: to provide an enjoyable flavor of fiction that caters to the science-romantic.
The most prominent of the ingredients in The Osiris Ritual is the mystery. That is, the emphasis of the story is on Newbury’s investigations into the murders and the location of the rogue agent, and on Hobbes’ apparently-but-not-really disconnected investigation into the disappearance of female theatergoers. Each of these mysteries is sufficiently plotted to provide suspense and they do have an additive effect when they do eventually intersect.
Thus the overall impression left by The Osiris Ritual is that it’s a solid mystery story (first and foremost) with a few elements of steampunk and the supernatural thrown in to offer some unique flavor. And while those other elements might be less pronounced, the story as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable and representative of something both Sherlock Holmes and steampunk fans can enjoy.