cover image King of the Cracksmen

King of the Cracksmen

Dennis O’Flaherty. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-59780-551-3

Debut novelist O’Flaherty creates a well-rounded alternate 19th-century setting, in which Russia controls much of North America, for this otherwise unremarkable mystery. After the murder of boarding house owner Maggie O’Shea, her boyfriend, Liam McCool, sets out to find the killer. Along the way, McCool discovers a multi-level conspiracy that traces throughout the U.S. government and learns that he is an unwitting pawn of Edwin Stanton, the most powerful man in America. McCool is joined in his quest by Becky Fox, a Nellie Bly stand-in, as they travel across an authoritarian post–Civil War country. McCool, a hard-bitten safecracker (the titular cracksman) who’s trying to do the right thing, lacks the suavity to be a successful antihero. The dialogue often seems to be for the benefit of the reader rather than the characters. The world McCool and Fox move through demonstrates that O’Flaherty has done plenty of research and thought through the implications of the changes to history, but even the rich background can’t quite balance out the book’s other shortcomings. (Jan.)