I found Cruel Numbers by Christopher Beats after having the urge to read something different and decided that difference should be steampunk mystery. I’ve also been on a huge Victorian-themed TV show kick recently, too, so that may be why.
Cruel Numbers is the first book in the Magnocracy Series, and takes place in steampunk NYC after the Civil War. Alas, the Civil War didn’t end the way we know it. The North lost to the South (thanks to some help from the British and their technology), and the US government is dissolved. Rising in it’s place is a magnocracy. Giant corporations rule the land, money buys power… and, wait a second, is this supposed to be a work of fiction or commentary on today’s America?
Our hero is Donovan Schist, an Irish-German American who fought for the North during the Civil War, then turned Pinkerton (who are no more than strong arms for the robber barons), and now a private eye. Donovan is on the case right away. An Irish family is paying him to track their daughter down. Donovan expects to find her dead or working as a prostitute. But as his investigation goes deeper, he stumbles across a bigger and deadlier mystery.
This is a fun story and at 42,000 words it’s a pretty quick read. It has a good sense of the noir genre while fitting it into the Victorian age. It is also a steampunk book, although I could call it “steampunk light.” There are very much steampunk inventions in the book, but they’re not extremely common and not everyone is running around wearing goggles and brass limbs and other steampunk genre conventions and cliches. It’s there in a good balance that adds to the atmosphere without overpowering the sense of mystery with a bunch of cool steam-tech.
I recommend Cruel Numbers to people looking for a quick and easy ready, fans of “light” steampunk, and readers who enjoy a good ol’ fashion noir tale.