Starred Review. Set in Victorian London, this superb debut from British author Barnes raises the bar for historical thrillers, starting with its curious opening line: Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. A page-turner, it's full of peculiar characters, notably Edward Moon, a highly unorthodox detective, and Moon's bizarre sidekick, known only as the Somnambulist. Moon, a conjuror by profession whose act has fallen on hard times, has cracked some of the city's most notorious murders. Now, he's leading the investigation into a shadowy religious group aiming to overtake London and do away with its oppressive, bourgeois tendencies. Moon is a remarkable invention, a master of logic and harborer of all sorts of unnatural habits and mannerisms. The Somnambulist—a giant, milk-swigging mute—doesn't appear to be human at all, yet serves as Moon's moral as well as intellectual compass. Together, they wend their way through a London rich in period detail. Barnes saves his best surprise for the story's homestretch, when he reveals the identity of his narrator, who's been cleverly pulling strings since the opening.(Feb.)
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