1908. A gruesome death on board the Sky Liner RMS Macedonia exposes the clash of class, secrets and sexuality in upper class Edwardian society. On her journey home Maliha Anderson, Anglo-Indian daughter of a Scottish engineer and a Brahmin scholar, hopes to make peace with her past, her future and what she sees in the mirror every day – until the nurse of wheelchair-bound General Makepeace-Flynn is murdered. The General declares his innocence and Maliha is the only one to believe his story. With landfall in India only hours away Maliha must find the real murderer before the culprit can escape, even though doing so puts her own life at risk.
A 92-page novella by Steve Turnbull
I bought MURDER OUT OF THE BLUE at the Steampunk convention, Steampunks in Space, last year (and it is also listed under ‘Steampunk’ on Amazon), but I’d have to admit that there was less Steampunk involved than I expected. Perhaps this comes from the assumption that all Steampunk contains gadgets and gears and top hats perched at a less-than-discreet angle.
Which – as one knows – is all rather jolly poppycock.
Anyway, the vibe I got from reading was, for the most part, more Dieselpunk. At least, had I not known the era, I would have said late 1920s, early ‘30s. One character, Temperance, even appears in my mind in an early flapper-style dress, complete with long cigarette holder. Nevertheless, I’d say the setting felt realistic and absorbing.
Just not my vision of Steampunk. And I’m totally allowed to say that.
I’d also say that the blurb makes out that there is more plot than there actually is, but I suppose that’s what one can expect from a novella. For those of you who know Steampunk writing, it’s a far cry from the heavy, action-packed writing of Cherie Priest or the teasing, poking-fun-at-society of Gail Carriger.
This was an interesting read with an Agatha-Christie-esque feel to the writing with the idea of limited suspects in an enclosed space without police. Murder could happen at any point, and indeed it does, followed swiftly by a suicide, which only heightens the drama and the resolve of the protagonist.
I managed to guess the murderer, though not the motive, and I suspect this may have come from my Agatha-Christie-reading suspect-everyone mentality! Nevertheless, I liked the touch of every suspect having a secret or something to keep from others. The characterisation, too, was strong, though a touch on the archetype side – the General in the wheelchair, his acidic wife, the ‘modern’ woman and the happily-married couple. In a novella, there is little time for extensive character development, but I saw glimmers of it where necessary.
Maliha was a sympathetic protagonist. Although I couldn’t empathise with her being biracial, I liked that it played in an aspect of her investigations and one of the reasons she was able to be more intellectual than the average Edwardian 19-year-old. She’s been through enough already that she’s developed a hard-enough skin to snoop.
“What are you doing?” said Temperance from the door.
“I am told gentlemen are not attracted to women who think.”
Indeed, it is snippets like that one that bring the characters to life. It’s cliché (one would find it in most a Christie novel), but nice to have something that one takes for granted in the 21st Century said out in the open.
I enjoyed the voice of the piece, even if there were times I felt it could be stronger. The novella is written in third-person (and has a couple of POV swaps that I felt could have been omitted) and this takes us away from really knowing Maliha’s sense of person. We weren’t close to her. In addition, some sentences I found were overwritten and sounded a little pretentious for the prose, and I spotted a fair number of run-on sentences, which made me stop and pull a face.
Overall, though, it was an enjoyable short read, and I would recommend it for those of you who are fans of Agatha Christie books and the pacing of the TV episodes, rather than for the Steampunk side, which doesn’t play much into the plot, as the author intended (which is a good thing in terms of the story, but I would’ve preferred more gadgets and sparking science).
I’d say 3 ½ stars out of five.
I’m not sure yet if I’ll pick up the other novellas in the Maliha Anderson series. The epilogue hinted at more to come, a cadence yet to close, and I liked how quick to read this novella was, even though the pacing wasn’t rushed. I’m just not desperate to read on yet.