Click here to buy Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Jayne Barnard has written a classic “Who Done It?” placed in the setting of a steam punk universe. Her extensive knowledge of Victorian times comes through clearly in details of clothing, behaviour, social class, and environment creating a tangible sense of the time period. She has blended this beautifully with steam punk culture. The author explains steam punk, as well as diesel punk and cyberpunk, in an interview on this blog here https://bferrante.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/author-jayne-barnard-three-random-questions-interview. Basically, steam machines are predominant. This includes dirigibles for cross Atlantic travel. Mix these two together and you get a recipe for a fun, unique mystery.
The major character calls herself Maddie Hatter in order to travel incognito as a reporter. She is in reality, the daughter of a rich and powerful Steamlord but prefers to make it in the world on her own mettle. However, in order to survive, she is forced to file fashion columns on a steady basis to pay her bills.
“She spent the afternoon composing a weeks worth of articles centred on Lady HH’s new Easter bonnet. This immense edifice of wire, linen, and lilies was worthy of a public Cathedral, and would be seen in one on Easter Sunday in London.”
The men of her era do not take her seriously and don’t hesitate to claim her detecting results as their own. Some young women reading this may be surprised as to how women were invisible in male social circles, especially women of the lower class.
Maddie is brave, clever, independent, and determined. We wish she would get the recognition she deserves but know that the best possible outcome is that she will be able to continue to live independently and pursue her dream of becoming a famous byline reporter. Not using her real name, of course. Since this book is the beginning of the series, we may yet hope that she will be justifiably rewarded for her courage and intelligence.
There is a list of cast members inspired by the game of Clue (Professor Plumb, Colonel Muster, Sir Ambrose Peacock) and the bigger-than-life explorers of the time period. Barnard uses a rich vocabulary which gives the text a Victorian quality. There is a missing trunk with a tribal mask holding a possibly magical massive diamond. There is an empty dirigible crashed far from its planned route. There are missing documents. Etc. I don’t like to say much about the plot of a mystery as it is too easy to accidentally include spoilers.
Hidden in the light-hearted text, the reader periodically comes across an absolute poetic piece of writing.
“She could look out over the desert below, its rocky outcrops and sloping dunes tinted blue by a waxing moon that shimmered over crests and lined each sandy windrow in purple shadow. Concerns of the civilized world were as ants beneath the weight of mere survival down there; up here, too, her worries faded before the vast empty majesty of the land and sky, the whisper of the night-time breeze teasing the sand into new patterns for the next morning. A bird warbled, alone in the immensity.”
Her description takes the writer to another world filled with sensations.
“In a very short time, Maddie, Clarice, and Nancy were walking down the gangplank to the Venetian aerodrome. The greeny-gray waters of the Grand Canal murmured four floors below, but the gangplank was wide and the side-rails sturdy oak. Their trunks, bags, and hat boxes followed in a veritable parade of porters. Mist kissed their cheeks, too delicate to be called rain, but leaving a slick over the vast, flat rooftop with its contra-dance of passengers, porters, and luggage. At the last step, the men in majordomo’s livery of black and teal – the Aquatiempe colors, Maddie recognized – lay in wait for them. A phalanx of one-wheeled automatons stood behind him, their armatures ready to take the load from the porters. Steamer trunks would be towed while smaller boxes were piled on their polished platforms. The ladies, the majordomo indicated with a bow and an outstretched hand, would be conveyed across the terminal and a teacup-shaped, auto-steering steam-carriage, painted and upholstered in teal with black accents.” And it continues.
If you enjoy lighthearted mysteries with unusual flavour, then this is a book for you.
The author, Jayne Barnard, will be interviewed on this blog on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.