Dark Sleeper

Jeffrey E. Barlough, Author Ace Books $14.95 (484p) ISBN 978-0-441-00730-1
Opening newcomer Barlough's Western Lights Series, this captivating neo-Victorian excursion set in the cozy world of Salthead, which separated decades earlier from an alternative Europe in a cataclysmic sundering, pits quasi-Holmesian sleuth Prof. Titus Vespasianus Tiggs against stupendous malignancies raised from the ancient pre-Roman civilization of the enigmatic Etruscans. The real joys of this richly textured novel, though, lie in Barlough's command of Victorian idiom and his rollicking flair for breathing life into endearingly eccentric characters. Fog-shrouded Salthead is the trading hub of a countryside in which mastodon caravans carry freight over mountain passes where highwaymen and saber cats prowl. Suddenly, strange apparitions appearDthe headless ghost of a drowned sailor, a spectral ship that glides unmanned to the quay, a mastiff abused by town miser Josiah Tusk that becomes ominously both more and less than human. As Tiggs and his doughty sidekick Dr. Dampe launch their investigation of these disruptions of Salthead life, they encounter the shadowy figures of three Etruscan mages, gifted with an immortality that they have come to loathe almost as much as they hate one another. Before resolving this unusually well-conceived battle of good vs. evil, Barlough presents a fascinating spectrum of characters. They range from Tiggs's cherished little niece, Fiona, and her pragmatic cat, Mr. Pumpkin Pie, to the shady agent, Samson Icks, and his thug, Cast-Iron Billy;from the glorious mastodon the Kingmaker and his docile mate, Betty, to vile lawyer Jasper Winch. Avoiding sentimentality with doses of gritty wit, Barlough keeps this close-knit narrative hurtling from one cliffhanger to another, offering a splendid entertainment for Anglophile mystery-cum-fantasy fans. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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