The Monster in the Mist (A Chronological Man Adventure) by Andrew Mayne
*Beware, here there be spoilers…*
I’ll admit, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I picked up Andrew Mayne’s, The Monster in the Mist (A Chronological Man Adventure). Going off that cover and the book’s description, I was expecting to get a Lovecraftian adventure set at the turn of the century with some Steam Punk flair thrown in for good measure. What I ended up with was a lost episode of Doctor Who, with all the pros and cons that entails.
The story follows April Malone, an attractive and intelligent young woman living in a smog choked 1890s Boston. Her mysteriously absent employer pays her to read almost every publication, attend every lecture, and see every play in addition to preparing coffee and feeding punch cards into a reader. Apparently, something in the punch cards awakes her employer, Smith, from his unexplained slumber for the first time in 2 years. Now it’s up to Smith and Miss Malone to get to the bottom of a rash of strange disappearances. Before they even get to the titular monster, they’ll have to face down a murderous alienist, a corrupt police force, and an evil secret society. It’s a pretty fun ride crammed into 168 pages, but gives the story a breakneck pace.
From the moment Smith is introduced, the story reeks of a Doctor Who homage/ripoff. He even has the odd inclinations towards his name (“Smith. Just Smith.”), and takes on a beautiful companion to add some sexual tension to the story. Rather than rely on the powers of deduction that apparently come with being a high functioning sociopath or the universal knowledge of a Gallifreyan, Smith uses elliptical thinking to resolve problems. An elliptical problem is one “where you have the evidence, but [don’t know] the relative consequences,” and use the information you’ve acquired to predict the outcome. The book uses this concept pretty well, and it’s great watching the characters connect the dots to solve a problem. However, Smith suffers from a plot induced case of amnesia, and hands most of the mental heavy lifting to Miss Malone. Instead, Smith abandons all of that crap in favor of a steampunk Iron Man suit with a Gatling gun mounted on the chest.
I know I’ve made it sound like I didn’t expect any cheese in a dime novel, or make emulating Doctor Who out to be a bad thing. However, author Andrew Mayne gets it right. His story has the sense of fun, creepiness, and danger which makes that show so successful. Smith is able to talk circles around his opponents, and almost always has a plan to get him out of trouble. Miss Malone is quite capable herself, and is a lot of fun to read. Finally, the monster has a horrific origin story, and looms over the city for the majority of the book.
While Smith plays at the mysterious stranger with a computer brain, he ends up relying more on his gadgets and suit of armor to solve his problems than his smarts. For me, April Malone’s intellect and quick thinking make her a more interesting character, and I feel the book does a disservice spending so much time with Smith. I mean I get it: it’s hard to talk a giant monster to death, but that doesn’t mean Malone should have all her problems solved by Smith’s gadgets. I would have liked just one scene of her holding her own in a fight.
Mayne is hitting a lot of good notes in this one. It has the right combination of a good creature feature, superhero story and steampunk adventure. Sure it’s a bit cheesy at times, but I found myself grinning throughout; and the story is nothing if not fun. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I would definitely recommend this one. Hell, despite its clunky title, The Monster in the Mist (A Chronological Man Adventure) is easily worth the small investment of your time and the $0.99 admission fee. And if you want more adventures of Smith and Miss Malone, check out the sequel, The Martian Emperor.
Overall: 4 out of 5