Written by George Mann — First published by an independent in 2010, Mann’s tribute to the pulp-era American rogue crime-fighting vigilantes has been revised, expanded and released by Titan Books. It’s been given an exceptional new pulp-style cover too, created by design studio Amazing 15.
The year is 1927, prohibition is in force and America is engaged in a cold war with Britain. Zeppelins roam the skies, coal-fired cars cruise the city’s mean streets and New York’s police are losing control of the five boroughs. One gangster above all seems to be gaining the upper hand – a new man in town who calls himself the Roman. All over town corpses are being discovered with ancient Roman coins placed over their eyes. It’s his trademark and nobody is safe from his henchmen. Not his competitors, and not politicians either. It’s clear that the city is going to hell, but everyone has a different solution.
For Gabriel Cross, New York high society’s most eligible bachelor, the answer is to hope the next bloody Mary gets rid of his hangover, and that the next party will help him block out the things he saw during the Great War.
For Inspector Felix Donovan and Sergeant Mullins, two of the last honest men on the force, who are charged with investigating the murder of Senator James Landsworth Sr, the dilemma is more complex. The Senator was found in a hotel room with a prostitute, bottles of booze and dead coins on his eyelids. It’s not long before their investigation leads them to the mysterious Roman, but before they can find him, he finds them. The choice offered to them is either accept a pay off and let the investigation stall or see their families killed.
Yet there is another character who has decided to fight fire with fire. The Ghost stalks the city’s rooftops, jets on his ankles propel him through the night sky, black cape billowing behind him, and red goggles enable him to see in the dark. An air gun attached to his arm fires deadly metal discs into any goons he finds, for like The Spider and The Shadow, the Ghost is judge, jury and executioner.
George Mann, who has written Sherlock Holmes pastiches and has a Victorian crime fiction series on the go, is never afraid to play with genre rules and reader’s expectations. He’s thrown the kitchen sink at this one. He has created an alternative history, and a tribute to early pulp crime with steam-punk trappings, supernatural menace, and even a doomed romance. You may find this to be either genius or madness. It might seem a brave attempt to shoehorn as much entertainment into a story as possible, or a scattergun method used in the hope that if enough shots are fired some are bound to hit the target. Whilst I wouldn’t want every reading experience to be like this, every now and again is just fine by me.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars