Categorized | Fiction, Reviews

Johannes Cabal the Detective Review

Posted on September 6, 2010 by Eric Pollarine

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    The further adventures in scenario-

    Ah yes, here we go. So when I was at Wizard World Chicago, see previous blog article on said adventure, prior to going into the actual convention I met up with Matt, our very fair minded and –not to be a kiss up, but really, in to in fact be a kiss up-wonderful editor handed me a box, which he so apply and verbally labeled as a “Christmas Present.”  I asked as we stood in the lobby of the hotel, whether or not “Johannes Cabal the Detective,” was in the box or not? To which, of course there was the obvious reply, yes. But the man wears sunglasses to obfuscate his eyes, which I believe hide his own supernatural abilities. Point being, I am scared of him, so I didn’t press the subject.

    I scurried rat like back to the hotel and dropped off the “present,” and then we began our trek over to the convention. (Again, see the aforementioned blog, ahem, plug, plug, plug)  I had made the conscious decision to leave starting the newest Johannes Cabal adventure to the week after I arrived back in my office, for reasons that I dare not go into here, as they will most likely turn out to be criminal and/or incriminating. So upon arrival home I allowed myself the customary day off, then proceeded to jump right into the evaporated steam provided waters. Now, based on my prior encounter with Cabal and his, special gift for reading the dead, I was a little skeptical as to how this novel was going to pan out.

    And now begins a series of sentences which begin with “and”

    Here’s the good bits, Johannes Cabal the Detective, released by Double Day, and penned again by Jonathan L. Howard, is a much more masterful and engaging piece of fiction than its predecessor. I will admit that I may have been a little too apt to jump on the first Cabal adventure with a bit of poison on my tongue, or in my hands as I type, because as a whole the “Steampunk” genre has been a rather large letdown. Many of the tropes of said genre are extraordinarily inventive, and seen through the right goggle lenses, pun intended, “Steampunk” could be the thing that finally pushes the “space opera” and “cyberpunk” aspects of science fiction together nicely. But I have read enough in the publishing sub set to know that a trend is often just that, simply a trend. Often times they are manufactured by the mega publishing houses to sell what is known in the industry as “a crap ton of f-ing books.”  And so I judged unfairly when I set down to read the first Johannes Cabal. I am sorry to have to admit it. However, as I previously stated, this novel was a far superior outing than the first. This also helps. Explanations are due, and those come next.

    In which I explain my position, UN pedantically-

    Johannes Cabal the Detective is a classic mystery wrapped lovingly in both the ribbons of classically British satire and that seemingly newfangled convention in the publishing world, clockwork. There, there’s your jacket cover quote.

    The Story begins as our anti hero/hero/would be villain, etc, etc. Johannes Cabal, a Necromancer of some little infamy, is being held captive by foreign agents on crimes committed, most notably the apparent and attempted theft of a mystical tome which has been outlawed for its unholy content relating to, of course, the summoning of the dead. When asked, under penalty of death, to resuscitate the recently deceased head of state for an international coup de tat, Cabal answers in his trademark fashion by turning the tides on his captors. He is then thrust into the fires and open arms of a political/military mess, international espionage, identity theft, some necromancy, murder, apparent suicide, detective work, his newly regained and meddling conscience, and of course a blimp. Well, they call it a zeppelin or an airship, or some such other, but we here stateside call them, blimps.

    Yes Cabal has surely gotten himself into the thick of things in this tale of murder and intrigue, and one can not read this novel, after having read the previous novel and think to themselves- Jonathan L. Howard should stick with mysteries. Because he certainly has a gift for penning entertaining stories, which leave you guessing but, and rather tongue and cheekily, somehow in on the whole thing throughout. The most important thing about a mystery, so they say, is that it, the mystery (in question), remains a mystery throughout the majority of the story. A mystery is no fun at all when you know, round about half way through the book, what the entire who, what, where and with the candlestick is. And Mr. Howard does a very, very good job at leaving you guessing throughout the book. We also see, now that Cabal has his soul back, the limitations which it puts on his previously stiff and unconventionally heinous character. Adding to the book a level of consistency that allows the reader to both bridge the gap between the two novels yet also have them catch up with the general back story without having read the previous novel. Simply said it is a great work of fiction on its own, and you don’t have to have read the prior novel to understand the great majority of the story that in this novel. It seems Mr. Howard has also worked out the kinks in both characterization and plotting that I believed plagued the first novel. Maybe he was having first novel jitters, possibly  he was just breaking the ice, even more possibly and the avenue I am going with currently, is that he has allowed Cabal the opportunity to become a fully realized and , no pun intended here, fleshed out character. You feel for Cabal in this novel, you get the sense of a man who would rather do one thing yet does another, you see the internal struggle with himself and as he evolves through the story you see him as being, well, human.

    In conclusion to and ending with-

    I do not want you to think that I have completely fallen in love with this book, as I have not, and I still think that Cabal has a ways to go towards being a radically memorable character, however that being said, I believe that this book pushes both the author and the character further towards the precipice of greatness and longevity. So, to Mr. Howard, Johannes Cabal and most importantly, to you the reader- I will apologize again for having misjudged the possibilities of Johannes Cabal and I await the (hopefully) impending third book to actualize this potential.

    Review by Eric Pollarine

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