Barnabas Tew is a private detective struggling to survive in his trade in Victorian London. Fearing that he is not as clever as he had hoped to be, he is plagued by a lack of confidence brought on in no small part by his failure to prevent the untimely deaths of several of his clients.
Matters only get worse when Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead, is referred to Barnabas by a former client (who perished in a terribly unfortunate incident which was almost certainly not Barnabas’ fault). Anubis sends for Barnabas (in a most uncivilized manner) and tells him that the scarab beetle in charge of rolling the sun across the sky every day has been kidnapped, and perhaps dismembered entirely.
The Land of the Dead is in chaos, which will soon spill over into the Land of the Living if Barnabas – together with his trusty assistant, Wilfred – cannot set matters to right. Pulled from his predictable (if unremarkable) life in Marylebone, Barnabas must match his wits against the capricious and dangerous Egyptian gods in order to unravel the mystery of the missing beetle and thereby save the world.
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I want to be able to DNF a book so badly! I wish I could just say aaahhhhh…. I’m done and be done with it. But so far I can’t. This one came really close though. In the end I compromised with myself. I skimmed entire sections. I jumped from 35% to 70%, read up to 75% then jumped again to 95% and read till the end.
After all is said and done, I actually don’t think it’s a horrible book. It’s just not a book for me.
The main character, Barnabas isn’t bad at all. He’s a bumbling middle-aged man who decided he’d like to work as a detective after reading Sherlock Holmes novels at a formative time in his life. The book is set (at least in the beginning) in Geogian England and opens with Barnabas and his assistant, Wilfred bemoaning their less than illustrious professional track record. We get a brief insight into both Barnabs and Wilfred as they interact with each other and their landlady, Mrs. Crowder, who despite wanting her very late rent is quite embarrassed to be asking for it.
The opening is, in fact, quite compelling and I was looking forward to spending time with these quirky characters. Then they’re killed and dragged off to the mythical Egyptian underworld to be put to use by Anubis, the King of the dead. Yes. Just like that. Out of the blue. Totally unexpected and never hinted at in the blurb. So, by chapter three, the reader is required to get their head around the fact that Barnabas and Wiffred are actually not alive but will be trying to solve the mystery of the missing scarab beetle, Khepre, in the Egyptian underworld.
Again, I was okay with this new ‘reality’ as I was very much interested in seeing how the Egyptian mythology would intertwine with the mystery. However, other than the use of a few legends and mention of mythical characters, the story essentially revolves around Barnabas and Wilfred bungling their way from one misstep to the next. I mean I skipped the second third of the story yet was not lost when I picked it back up. The characters were pretty much doing the same things and no real headway had been made on the mystery. I wasn’t even particularly surprised by the “big reveal” in the end as that was the only character I’d noticed any suspicion around.
However, I still do think the concept of the setting is interesting and I would have liked to see it played up more. (Perhaps it was in the sections I left out). I also found the author’s writing style quite engrossing. It’s descriptive in a way that does indeed pull the reader into the story and helps to build up the action. It was the actual action that I didn’t care for.
Overall, I don’t think it’s fair to give this story less than 3 espresso shots as there are some very enjoyable elements and many others would probably take to the tale. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.