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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Curious Case
of the Clockwork Man

Mark Hodder

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To purchase The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man

Title: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
Author: Mark Hodder
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 350 pages
Availability: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man - US
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man - UK
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man - Canada
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man - India
L'étrange cas de l'homme mécanique - France
Der wundersame Fall des Uhrwerkmanns - Deutschland
  • A Burton & Swinburne Adventure - 2

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Our Assessment:

B- : a too far-flung mix -- though seems to set up following volumes well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 28/3/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hodder handles these cross-cultural encounters surprisingly well. (...) Ultimately though, the many characters, places, plot twists and turns fail to work together to keep the reader's attention." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is the second of Mark Hodder's (slightly-)alternate-world adventures featuring nineteenth century explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne. As Burton explains:

I've never possessed a clear idea of my function in society. I've been a soldier, a spy, a geographer, an interpreter, an explorer, an author, a surveyor, and now the king's agent, whatever the blazes that is.
       In fact, he continues to fill many of these roles -- but it's the king's (and in this alternate not-Victorian world that's King Albert) assignments, conveyed via the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, that mainly keep him busy -- and get him into trouble. Here the simple instructions he receives are:
Investigate the claimant to the Tichbourne title.
       The Tichbourne affair is an historical one (as also described by Hodder in his useful appendix, with its brief notes on the many actual figures in the novel), involving a claimant to the Tichborne estates -- though in fact: "in all probability Arthur Orton, a morbidly obese butcher from Wapping" -- and resulting in a civil and then a criminal case. While Hodder embellishes and uses the affair for his own ends, he does rely on the basics and cleverly utilizes various aspects -- from the claimant's morbid obesity to the clash of (social) classes that the affair provoked.
       As Burton is aware, time has gone off track somewhere:
Countess, you and I are privy to a fact that very, very few people know: namely, that the natural course of time has been interfered with. The history we are living is different from what would otherwise have been.
       Along with some slight (and not so slight) changes in history and politics, this allows Hodder to include a variety of technological advances that did not, in these forms, come to exist at that time (the early 1860s). So there's the 'clockwork man' of the title, a wind-up automaton of remarkable abilities (and, eventually, endowed with a remarkable mind as well). There are giant swans that are used in conjunction with kites of sorts to function as flying machines, or, for example, a very effective cactus-gun. On a larger scale, Ireland has been even more blighted than in actual history, turned first into a "virtual desert", and now into a(n inhospitable, to put it mildly) jungle. Meanwhile, the American Civil War is shaping up rather differently too, with foreign involvement making for a very different conflict.
       Before Burton even gets to looking into the Tichbourne title-issues he finds himself chasing some clever criminals who seem to have perpetrated an impressive diamond heist; not surprisingly, this crime and the case Burton takes on eventually prove to be connected.
       The Claimant's claim seems absurd on the face of it -- the physical differences between the Claimant and who he claims to be alone should be proof enough -- but Hodder cleverly uses the reality that many chose to believe him, offering an alternative explanation for that. It is this also that leads to the true mastermind(s) behind many of these very unsettling occurrences -- including Madame Blavatsky, with her remarkable seer-powers (though even that turns out to be more complicated than it originally seems).
       The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man opens with the claim:
     Sir Richard Francis Burton was dead.
       As is quickly revealed, he's not; as if that weren't enough, Hodder later repeats the (false) claim under different circumstances -- playing a bit fast and very loose and entirely prematurely with what turn out not to be facts, a trick that's hard to get away with and doesn't work very well here, but is too typical of the novel, where Hodder goes for cheap, quick effect without there being quite enough behind it far too often.
       The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is too packed and baggy -- and, with its walking dead and wraiths, too reliant on the entirely supernatural -- to really work. Hodder still offers quite a few scenes and encounters of fine invention and good dialogue, but the bigger picture is an uneven one -- though redeemed and excused a bit in that it seems to set the stage nicely for the continuation of the series, with Burton ready to set out, once again, to search for the source of the Nile (among other things ...) at the conclusion of this volume.
       At one point Burton notes:
     "I have the distinct impression, Inspector," said Burton, "that a very tangled web has been woven."
       Hodder's web is, indeed tangled -- and probably considerably more so than is good for it. Tossing in so much lessens the overall dramatic tension considerably (even as there are certainly some exciting and well-drawn scenes and confrontations along the way), and while much of this is good fun the bigger picture disappoints somewhat. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man comes to feel very much like an intermediate novel in the series -- adding to the whole, but not quite offering enough on its own.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2016

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The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man: Reviews: Mark Hodder: The Burton & Swinburne Adventures under review:
  1. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
  2. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Mark Hodder was born in 1962.

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© 2016 the complete review

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