It is nearing the end of 1919, the world is controlled by the ever present McNaughton company. McNaughton is responsible for every big and desirable invention that has happened in the last 25 or more years, but at what cost? They have created the beautiful city of Evesden, but lurking beneath the streets is something dark and sinister as a trolley cart pulls into a station with 11butchered union men on board. The people are crying out for justice, that McNaughton is the cause but the police are powerless to persecute a company that has become a world super power. One man is assigned to the job of hunting down the union leaders and seeing them brought before the McNaughton company, but Cyril Hayes is not known for being a team player or caring which tactics get the job done. He has worked for McNaughton for years because they have helped fuel his addictions, but the mystery behind the McNaughton's inventions, the unions and deaths, is the most powerful addiction that Hayes has.
I actually did not realize that this book had a steam punk and sci-fi feel to it as nothing is mentioned about it in the premise of the book. I thought it was a mystery/thriller book that was based in the 1920s, people wanting to unionize and the companies doing what they could to prevent it. This is not to say that the sci-fi aspect is in your face all the time, it is more subtle and not a constant aspect other than Hayes abilities. This book is really about the Company vs. the Unions, and the battles that ensued as each side tries to promote their beliefs and survive.True the main character Hayes has the ability to mimic people and read people minds and emotions if he is in contact with them for long enough but I did not think Bennett would take the sci-fi aspect as far as he did. I really liked Hayes "powers" within this book, at first I was not sure if he did have powers, I thought he was the master of manipulation and a chameleon which would have been powers in their own right, but add in alight mind reading ability and Hayes becomes a very qualified investigator and interrogator.
Bennett does a great job of building and describing this 1920s world, it was described in such a way that I would picture the city in only blue, white, gray and black shades a very bleak and powerful picture. The people and the world are desperate. There a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor and the McNaughton company who monopolize it all. The city, the people and the world, are all controlled by the McNaughton corporation in some sense, everyone relies on their inventions, discoveries and wealth, that people believe that they are unable to live without McNaughton. From the overall desperation of the people living in the Shanty area of town, to Hayes addictions to get some peace to Sam attempting to prove her worth and Garvey attempting to find some justice in the world. The book does have an overall depressing feeling about it, but there is hope in what the main characters investigation will present, one that is hopefully a better future. Bennett`s talent lies in his ability to create a world that you truly believe it was real and that his novel was the way things actually did happen in the past.
This book is full on conspiracy and the main characters do not know who they can trust, even each other. Garvey is a police officer whole is loyal to policing and believes not only the city as it once was, but in right and wrong. He is stressed and over whelmed by the amount of death that has occurred within his city (I believe the total stated is well over 400) but he feels helpless to prevent the act as well as solve the multiple homicides that reach his desk. He is searching for a way to make the city what it once was, could the answer lay within the unions, company or with Hayes in his backward (and often illegal way) of doing things. Then there is Sam, the one who is there to control Hayes, but no one can really do that. Sam is powerless most of the time as Hayes is just content to let Sam do all the research while he gallivants around town following the hunches that he gets. I actually questioned the introduction of Sam as a character, her main purpose is to do research however, I feel that this research could have been achieved by have Garvey completing more police work and becoming more of a main character. Perhaps Bennett did not wish to make the book into a police investigation one.
Hayes is the anti hero in this book. He is working for the McNaughton company, and he only does it because it helps him focus and keep the voices out of his head. He also has a major drinking and drug problem, he likes to chase the dragon throughout the book, thinking that it helps him with the voices and the cases. Hayes appears to be loyal to the company but you are never really sure, one thing you are sure of is that he is loyal to himself, first and always. Hayes knows that the drinking and drugs are slowly killing him, but you can feel his pain and his need to escape reality for just a short time. I like when Bennett divulged a little bit of Hayes past and how he came to be working for McNaughton. I also likes how Hayes need for the hunt into mysteries was also an addiction to him and made me think of police officers that become so obsessed with cases that they are unable to see anything else. This is a characterization that is not explored often enough in crime type novels. I understand that Hayes is not a police officer, but an investigator of sort.
The story leaves a little bit to be desired, it was a little slow at points and I found myself not with the huge need to continue reading the book at that moment, I was able to put it down and return to it at a later date. I think everyone wants to read a book that you cannot just walk away from, and for me this book lacked that aspect. I wish that Bennett would have ventured deeper into the hate that the unions had with the McNaughton company. I found that Bennett restricted Hayes and Sam too much through the McNaughton Corporation (though this may have been deliberate on his part to just show the control of the company, but I found this aspect did hurt the story). I also wonder if Bennett was trying to get his own point of view about technology and global warming across within the book (you will have to read the book to understand what I mean by this point, or maybe you will get an entirely different idea altogether).
All in all, a pretty good read and I think it would be a good book if someone is wanting to try out the steam punk genre or a book that has just a touch of sci-fi in it. I have actually heard that his debut novel Mr. Shivers is fantastic (sorry no review of this book quite yet). I find that Bennett`s eye for detail, world building and Hayes overall "powers" has left me intrigued and asking for more, so I think I will be picking up Mr. Shivers (or his next book) sometime soon.