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WesternSFA
The Executioner's Heart
by George Mann
Tor, $15.99, 352pp
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
The Executioner's Heart is the fourth book in the Newbury & Hobbes Investigation series. This book works well as a standalone, with minor references to previous cases, the ending giving us a glimpse of how the next novel will begin. It was a very engaging read and I will be more than happy to follow up with future adventures. In fact, I will make it a point to pick up the first three books to find out more about this interesting pair.

The style is Victorian mystery with a heavy dose of steampunk and supernatural elements thrown in. The main characters, Newbury and Hobbes, are not your traditional Holmes and Watson but the mystery style is similar.

The main character, Sir Maurice Newbury, is an agent of the queen. He's a supernatural specialist and is called in on cases of a horrendous nature. His friends worry over his opium addiction though he doesn't see it as a problem, thinking that they just don't understand the necessity of its use. He is also wearing himself thin, figuratively and literally, trying to help his partner's sister by immersing himself in the arcane rituals needed to do the trick. The most important thing to know about him is that, though he hasn't acted upon it, he is in love with his partner and would do anything for her.

Newbury's partner is Miss Veronica Hobbes. A woman working in what is considered a man's world, she constantly has to prove she's independent and capable of doing her job and yet still deport herself as a lady. She knows of Sir Maurice's love for her and, though she cares for him too, doesn't try to dwell on it; especially since she feels guilty that he's clearly doing himself harm by helping her sister get better, knowing that he's doing it out of love for her.

Sir Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, calls them in to help solve a series of murders he's currently investigating, which he has reason to believe have a symbolic, supernatural reason behind them. Why, you ask? The victims all had their chests cracked and hearts stolen while they were still alive. Sir Charles thinks if anyone can solve this case and figure out the motive, it will be Newbury and Hobbes.

Aside from this heinous case and his efforts to help Hobbes's sister, Newbury has had a private visit from the Prince of Wales, wanting him to help investigate possible traitors who are trying to undermine the Queen. In this series, Queen Victoria has surpassed her longevity with the help of alternate medical practices and this has not endeared her to many. Who really has the best intentions for the kingdom and the people of the nation?

As Newbury and Hobbes dig deeper into the case and more bodies pile up, they begin to believe they are the work of a French mercenary called the Executioner; but how can that be since the legends regarding this person go back hundreds of years? There are rumors about her being covered in symbolic tattoos from head to toe and that her heart is damaged, that something has kept her in a living stasis all these years.

Who are the Executioner's targets, who hired her and why are their hearts being taken? Why has Veronica started having doubts and trust issues with some of her associates, including Sir Charles? Is there really a plot to overthrow the Queen and how does the Prince of Wales fit into it all? Can Newbury and Hobbes solve the mystery, catch the Executioner and keep themselves alive while doing so?

This book was a great ride and I'd gladly recommend it to all anyone who likes a good mystery, especially one with steampunk and supernatural aspects thrown in. I can't wait for the next one to come out. ~~ Dee Astell

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