George Archer finds himself under attack from a group who want the information in a diary of which he possesses the only remaining fragment. Liz Archer and Eddie Hopkins are drawn into the matter when Eddie steals a wallet owned by Liz’s father. They team up with Sir William Protheroe to determine who is behind the mysterious reanimation of one of George’s British Museum colleagues, recently dead, and why someone is so determined to get hold of Sir Henry Glick’s diaries.
Taken in its own right, this is an averagely engaging, lightweight adventure story with some Victorian SciFi. The characters are mostly by-the-book, but not entirely without interest. George Archer is the unassuming hero: a clock mender working for the British Museum who becomes unwillingly involved in a far-fetched plot. He falls in with the resourceful female: Liz Oldfield, sparky daughter of a clergyman with aspirations to be an actress. Helping them out are Eddie Hopkins, the pickpocket with a soft heart, and Sir William Protheroe. The grotesquerie enters from the start and centres around a fairly batty scheme to build a mechanical steam-powered army of reanimated humans and animals. This already includes a dinosaur which stalks the peasoupered streets of London and one of George’s former colleagues. The idea is that anything can be revived by filling its brain with electricity, and it can be controled by performing some ad-hoc brain surgery. It’s the old Frankenstein syndrome: silly, and offensive if taken seriously, but just enough to fill out the plot. On the way, Liz and George attend a seance. The medium is obviously a charlatan, and the seance itself fraudulent. To defend himself and his friends, George adapts a couple of his clockwork devices, one to fire ball-bearings, the other to explode at a certain time. Although the targets are obvious wrongdoers, both devices are used quite ruthlessly.
In general, the violence in the story is no more than is to be expected in a Victorian SciFi romp but these odd moments are noticeably stronger in their impact. Of course, Liz falls for George, and they unofficially adopt Eddie. Liz is considered unladylike for her desire to work in the theatre, and, by Victorian standards, she is probably also going beyond the pale by visiting him alone at his house. By any modern standards, however, her relationship with George is entirely innocent and above-board.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.