by Jonathan Barnes
(William Morrow) $23.95.
The title character in The Somnambulist is a golem, and the book is a supernatural thriller set in Victorian London. Golems and supernatural Victorian thrillers are so played out, after countless unimaginative repetitions of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, respectively, that I started reading The Somnambulist with the full intent to abandon it the minute it showed signs of laziness or obviousness. I wound up setting the book down, a day later, having read and enjoyed it in its entirety.
That said, it's not an insult to say that there's nothing new here. Barnes sets the stage with well-worn characters: the down-on-his-luck stage magician, the circus freak, the evil mastermind with a plan to rule the world. And the plot, something to do with a utopian community and the corpse of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, evokes the best of Lovecraft without churning out the same old sad fan-fiction tropes. Some third-act brilliance involving two perverse demon hit men who speak in heavy cockney slang provides a refreshing breeze of dark humor at just the point where the book begins to sag.
Watching the same old characters do some new tricks is enough to make The Somnambulist an old-fashioned adventure novel that quickly fades from memory but leaves a lingering feeling of being supremely entertained.