Firstly, a word of explanation – Equivocation is the magician’s art making an outcome seem intended when in reality there are several – but all of which are prepared for. The punter doesn’t know this of course, and so is fooled every time when a card is forced on him, or his mind ‘read’. Having checked this out, it was clear that we would be in for a twisty, turny ride in this novel.
It’s 1853, a serial killer is on the loose in London, and the murders happen to coincide with the arrival of a travelling circus run by conjuror Cornelius Quaint. Unfortunately Prometheus, the troupe’s mute strongman, picks the wrong pub to drink in and ends up in jail as the only suspect. Cornelius together with his valet Butter, and clairvoyant Madame Destine must find a way to free him. But from the moment they start investigating, it is clear that there are convoluted plots afoot involving events from Quaint’s past and that the killings are no coincidence.
Quaint is a striking hero – a magician in his fifties, a gentleman who has seen the world, yet is seemingly content for now to run the circus. He speaks in a way that reminds me of the late, great James Mason – slightly clipped and formal, always emphatic. He is ever the showman and also fiercely protective of his circus troupe. Prometheus, the strongman is also well-drawn, but I found it harder to engage with Madame Destine who also plays a large part. It would also have been nice to see how the mysterious Eskimo valet Butter ended up working for Quaint. Now as this is a Victorian melodrama, we have a motley collection of bad-guys – ranging from the pantomime villain Bishop to the psychopathic murderer himself and the stooge of a police commissioner too. Their actions keep the plot moving along at a rip-roaring speed, and all the twists and turns keep you guessing right the way through, applying the techniques of the title.
This debut novel is the first of a trilogy involving Quaint and although it has some rough edges, it was huge fun to read. The cover proudly proclaims as good as Boris Akunin or your money back – I’ve only read the first Fandorin novel, but fans of that will certainly enjoy the Equivoque Principle. Thanks to Scott at the Friday Project for sending me the book – and roll on volume two.