Majestrum, Matthew Hughes. Night Shade Books, 2007.
Hengis Hapthorne, a character Hughes developed in short fiction form, is a Holmesian detective in a fantastical world on a cusp of a radical change from science and reason to magic and wonder. Hapthorne himself is a forerunner of this change, his integrator (assistant) has changed into a cat-like creature (a familiar) and his intuitive self has become a full fledged individual often at odds with the reason and deductive analysis Hapthorne is used. These events occurred prior to the start of Majestrum so we the readers, like Hapthorne himself, are left to adjust to his constant battle with the changes within himself and the world around him.
Hughes crafts an original tale in an innovative world that is couched in a familiar form. Unfortunately some of that form borrows a little too much from Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” for my liking. I admit this is as much a matter of taste as anything, I prefer the noir-detective and kinetic action over the more cerebral contemplation of the Holmes’ out there, but the often unexplained logistic leaps are an element of this type of detective fiction I do not particularly like. That being said I must admit that Hughes does a magnificent job of emulating the model of early detective fiction.
Hughes infuses Hapthorne with a dry wit that I found particularly enjoyable and a number of odd quirks that brought a smile as I read. In particular Hapthorne’s fascination with food, never commented on, is perhaps my favorite. Story wise some of the connections between Hapthorne’s cases, while you know they have to be there, are impossible to grasp before they are revealed (again a failing of form, in my opinion, rather than on Hughes writing ability) but overall the whirlwind tour across worlds and to exotic locales is a joy to read. The ending again returns to this anti-hermeneutic Holmesian formula removing the reader from participation in the story.
Overall Majestrum was a light, enjoyable read that fans of dry humor and Sherlock Holmes will enjoy. While I am more a fan of detectives of a more kinetic bent, Marlowe and Spade, Dresden and Kovacs (if you want to call Kovacs a detective) for the more genre-inclined, I give Majestrum a solid B thanks to the originality of the world and interesting multi-faceted character Hughes has created in Hapthorne and his entourage.
Click below for my review of Brust’s Firefly novel, “My Own Kind of Freedom.”