Murder Out of the Blue is the first book in Steve Turnbull's Maliha Anderson steampunk mystery series.
There's a lot to like about Murder Out of the Blue. I found the worldbuilding to be seamless. I'm relatively new to steampunk, so I wasn't familiar with the concept of the Faraday engines, but the world of steampunk so well-integrated into the story that it took a few chapters before I realized that it was steampunk and not just a historical mystery set in the zeppelin era.
The strongest aspect of the book is Maliha Anderson herself. She's a sharply-drawn, wonderful character. Turnbull gave her a unique voice and believable reactions to difficult and racially insensitive situation—and gave the reader an irresistible taste to an enticing backstory.
However, the mystery itself leaves a lot to be desired. The murder isn't uncovered until more than halfway through the story, which perhaps would be expected if this novel had been written in Victorian times, but breaks my expectations of a modern novel, steampunk or no. As a result, the first part of the novel drags.
More problematic, though, is that the murder is solved far too quickly, and with the reader seeing little detective work on Maliha's part. It's a bit of conjecture followed by a lot of luck, and the arc of the plot that has to do with the murder simply isn't satisfying.
Turnbull's language is usually powerful and astute—and quite appropriate for a steampunk mystery. Unfortunately, the exception is the climactic scene. A physical altercation that takes place very quickly—perhaps one or two seconds at most—is over-described and goes on for a couple of lengthy paragraphs. The immediacy of the scene is lost, replaced with tepid emotion.
In spite of this book's issues, I plan on continuing to read this series. I believe part of the issue is the short length of this book. More time to solve the murder to balance out the time needed to build the world and introduce the characters would have been welcome. I've noticed that the books in the series get longer as they go on, and I'm invested in Maliha as a character.
3 stars out of 5.
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