Unseemly Science, by Rod Duncan, picks up some time after the first novel in the Gas-Lit Empire series, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter. Private investigator Elizabeth Barnabas is muddling along when a new law is passed that could send her straight back to the Kingdom she fled as a teenager. As if this weren’t complication enough, Elizabeth is also drawn into a strange case of missing ice in Derbyshire that becomes a lot deadlier than it has any right to be.
Ever since she fled a sentence of indentured servitude in the Kingdom of England and South Wales, Elizabeth has been living a double life. She earns money as an intelligence agent and private investigator while disguised as her fictional brother Edwin, because women in the Anglo-Scotch Republic are not permitted to work in such a rough field. She usually manages to keep her head down and avoid notice, but Unseemly Science opens with the arrival of a lawyer to disturb her equilibrium. This lawyer informs her that a new treaty will extradite all fugitives from the Kingdom back where they came from. For an outrageous sum, the lawyer will do his best to see that Elizabeth escapes her legal entanglements. After that, things go swiftly to hell.
Elizabeth spends much of Unseemly Science escaping from various captivities. In spite of this, she still takes on the case of the missing ice because it will bring her protection from connected politicals. It’s really her only hope at this point. The case of the missing ice shouldn’t be such a big deal, but Elizabeth’s potential patron insists that she find out what is going on in Derbyshire. Slowly, Elizabeth uncovers a crime that’s much, much worse than pilfering and thievery and we finally learn what the unseemly science of the title is.
But I’m not going to give the twist away.
What struck me about Unseemly Science most keenly was Elizabeth’s growing loneliness. Though she has friends, she really can’t trust anyone—not with a price of 400 guineas on her head. That kind of money will turn anyone. She’s alone so much of the time, fighting against impossible odds. It seems that she would like to have someone to help her carry the burden.
I don’t usually read the glossaries at the end of books, but I’m glad I skimmed through the one provided with Unseemly Science. In the entry for our protagonist, Duncan hits at even bigger adventures and struggles in Elizabeth’s future.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 5 May 2015.