Camera Obscura is a fantastical amalgamation of genres – combining detective, penny dreadful, 1970’s exploitation movies, steampunk, kung fu and more into one exceptionally readable tome.
Set in the Victorian era, Milady de Winter works for the Quiet Council, who run France from behind the scenes. A former circus performer previously known as Cleopatra, de Winter is a dangerous character – armed with a Colt Peacemaker, 6’2” in height and not afraid to kick the proverbial bottom if it gets in her way. Part PI, part policewoman, she investigates unusual cases that might prove difficult or problematic for the regular police.
Milady de Winter is called to investigate an unusual death at the Rue Morgue, where a man is found dead in a locked room. Soon enough, she finds herself attacked by mysterious Chinese gangs, investigating more odd deaths and seeking a strange jade statue.
The book boasts an illustrious cast of characters, including Viktor Frankenstein, Mycroft Holmes, Tom Thumb, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (a French conjurer, widely regarded as the father of modern magic), the Marquis de Sade and many more.
Tidhar’s prose grabs the reader by the eyeballs and refuses to let go – the action flows thick and fast, and the occasional reference to other books within his portfolio have certainly drawn me to investigate his back catalogue further. This is a thrilling read, and stands on its own feet quite nicely – the reader does not have to be familiar with Tidhar’s other work to appreciate and enjoy this tale.