Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Astounding new technologies abound; airships soar over the city, trains rumble through the streets, and clockwork automatons carry out menial tasks. But beneath this dazzling veneer lurks a sinister world…
Ghostly policemen haunt the alleyways of Whitechapel, cadavers rise from the dead, and now an airship has crashed under strange circumstances. Mystified by a series of grisly murders, Scotland Yard call upon the brilliant Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentlemen Investigator for the Crown, and his recently appointed and unflappable assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes.
So begins the first thrilling adventure of Newbury and Hobbes, in a steampunk London you will never forget.
Book One in the Newbury & Hobbes series.
It seems as if only a few months have passed since I wrote this, my first full length novel, in a white heat of excitement in 2007/8. I’ve been astounded by people’s response to the book, by how many people have found something to enjoy in this madcap tale of derring-do and adventure in the dark streets of a Victorian London that never was.
When I set out to write the book it was purely an exercise in self-gratification. I wanted to write the type of story I love to read, something that would be sheer, unadulterated fun. I wanted to write a book for the sheer pleasure of it. The irony, of course, is that the book and the series it spawned has proved to be by far the most successful I’ve ever written. Which only goes to prove that old adage about writing for yourself, rather than writing what you think people are going to want to read…
Three novels and a handful of stories later and the characters have taken on something of a life of their own. Now it seems like they’ve always been there, a part of my psyche. Perhaps they have.
I originally conceived of Sir Maurice Newbury long before I wrote The Affinity Bridge. I think he was born out of my desire to write a sequence of stories in the mould of those classic Victorian and Edwardian tales about supernatural sleuths – Aylmer Vance, Eugene Valmont, Flaxman Low and, of course, Carnacki the Ghost the Finder. I’ve always had a passion for those stories, along with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who – tales of high adventure, of foggy streets and bizarre encounters. Of bold heroes and larger than life villains.
Newbury was always going to explore bizarre and supernatural crimes in a weird, fantastical version of Victorian London. And his desire to understand the occult and his drug addiction would mean he always walked a fine line between being an expert in the dark arts and becoming a practitioner. That, you see, is Newbury’s flaw – he is drawn to the darkness like a moth is drawn to a flame. And it may yet prove to be his undoing.
It wasn’t, however, until Veronica Hobbes came into being that everything gelled and The Affinity Bridge began to take shape. Veronica was only ever intended to be Newbury’s sidekick, but almost as soon as I started writing I realised that this had to be a true partnership, a meeting of equals in a time of inequality. Veronica, that strong woman battling against the prejudice of her age, her clairvoyant sister locked in a lunatic asylum – she had a story of her own to tell. And secrets, too. Dark secrets that she couldn’t share with Newbury, no matter how much she longed to do so.
Then, of course, there was Charles Bainbridge, Newbury’s friend and confidant, a fellow agent to the Queen and an inspector at Scotland Yard. Bainbridge was never going to be a bumbling Lestrade, the ineffectual policeman who was there only to allow our hero to shine. Rather, he is a man of steady nerves – solid, dependable – quite the opposite of Newbury, and in his own way as essential a member of the team. Bainbridge solves crimes through hard work, process and resolve, whereas Newbury relies on flashes of insight and inspiration. Method as opposed to action; Bainbridge is yin to Newbury’s yang. They need each other to function effectively.
It soon became clear to me that these books are as much Veronica’s and Bainbridge’s story as they are Newbury’s, and the more of them I write, the more evident I think that becomes. Newbury – the man who started it all – is made greater by the presence of his friends and loved ones, just the same as us all.
“Steampunk is making a comeback, and with this novel Mann is leading the charge… An engaging melodrama that rattles along at a breakneck pace.”
“There is an easy grace to the narrative which helps to make the novel a really easy and enjoyable read. When combined with the strong characters and clever plot it becomes a book that is quite difficult to put down.”