The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Burton & Swinburne, #1

Imagine a BDSM-loving poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, posing as a London chimney sweep to learn why loups-garou are roaming London abducting tall boys. His boss in the investigation is  noted explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who has been chosen by His Majesty to be a special investigator into both the loups-garou and the sudden appearance of a supernatural, stilt-walking molester of young women, Spring Heeled Jack. That would be “His Majesty,” because, in this world, Queen Victoria was assassinated shortly after taking the throne.

This is Steampunk gone wild. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is author Mark Hodder’s debut, set in a middle 19th-century London where Oscar Wilde is a paperboy traipsing the streets of a city sinking beneath the weight of pollution and chemically-induced fogs, where technologists and eugenicists are running the asylum, and where historical figures who should be dead are living alternate, ongoing lives.

Despite an occasional tendency to over-explain the gadgetry of his world, Hodder has created a wonderfully imaginative London where a new invention or fanciful scheme (cursing parakeets are used to deliver messages) can be found around every corner. Two mysteries—the loups-garou abduction of chimney sweeps and the sudden reappearance of the mythical (or so everyone thought) bodice-ripper Spring-Heeled Jack—are woven together in a rich, fantastical tapestry of a technological age that has rendered time and place meaningless.

This is a fun read with a laugh-aloud surprise on every turn of the page, written with a dry wit evocative of the era. Hodder seamlessly blends historical facts with pure fantasy in something truly unique. Here’s hoping Burton and Swinburne team up again for a sequel.

Book Blurb for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton—explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne—unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.

Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!

Night Owl Reviews Sep, 2010 4.75