Johannes Cabal: The Detective

“For necromancer Johannes Cabal, dealing with devils, demons and raising the dead is pretty much par for the course. But when his attempt to steal a rare book turns sour, he is faced with a far more terrifying entity – politics”

I find that I keep coming back to this book. It’s one of my most loved books on my shelf, I’ve leant it to most of my friends and I’ve listened to the audiobook countless times. With the recent release of the fourth book in the series The Brothers Cabal I felt I should finally talk about this book to get myself ready to write the most recent review.

Johannes Cabal: The Detective is the sequel to Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer but they have little in common outside of their title character. Where Necromancer is a Faustian Narrative, Detective leaves behind the devils and magic for the beast of politics. Cabal translates easily into this non-fantastical world. Yet the stink of magic is still there, for Cabal is a necromancer first and a detective last. It’s hard to forget.

Detective opens with Cabal trapped in the dungeon of a castle in the country of Mirkavia. He’s approached by Count Marechal, a Mirkavian nobleman who wishes to insight a rebellion. His plan was simple, the Emperor was to give a rousing speech, while Marechal’s agents would remove certain key figures that he deemed were corrupting the essence of Mirkavia. Except there was a minor set back. The Emperor has died. The Count offers Cabal his freedom if he would be able to raise the Emperor so that he could perform his speech. Cabal, though exclaiming his distaste for politics agrees to the job. Insanity ensues.

The majority of the novel takes place on an airship, which Cabal has managed to trick his way onto, so that he could escape from Mirkavia and a very angry Count Marechal. During his stay on the airship, one of the other passengers is murdered. When Cabal finds his own life threatened, he takes on the case. But like all good mysteries, nothing is as it seems.

The tone of the novel is dry, sarcastic and sometimes just awful. And I love it. If The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was mean spirited, it would be this book. Cabal himself is not the nicest of individuals but there is something about him. His inability to properly understand certain social cues, his unparalleled intellect and his ability to always manage to stay on top of the situation at hand, even when it gets borderline insane. Cabal happily sits in the niche of loveable assholes along with the modern day Sherlock Holmes and Marvel’s Tony Stark. But at the same time, there is something a little different with our necromancer. There have been changes since his year spent in his demonic carnival, and dare I say it? Are they for the better?

Howard describes  Cabal as:

” …cleanly shaven, bathed and dressed in freshly pressed clothes – regarded himself in the mirror. He stood a shade over six feet tall and, although he’d have preferred his blond hair cut back a little and the suit they’d given him was a dark grey rather than his habitual black, he wasn’t altogether displeased with his appearance” (5)

He plays off a well-loved archetype. There is something human about his lack of humanness. Cabal wants to not care, but always finds himself stuck in situations caused by some form of attachment. Much of Cabal’s character growth in this novel centre around his interactions with Leonie Barrow. Miss Barrow played a minor role in Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer, and it’s great to see her back and given a larger role and a more rounded out character in this novel. Cabal and Barrow are forced to work together over the course of the novel and some of my favourite lines and moments come from their interactions.

The Detective is a fun ride and a great addition to the series and it’s my favourite book by Howard so far. If you like snarky protagonists, steampunk or even just a good detective story then this book is definitely for you. But like all the other Cabal novels, this book is all fun and games until Jonathan L. Howard goes for your emotional jugular. So watch out for that.

Favourite/ Memorable Quotes

“There is possibly no insult so calculated to sting the English as the suggestion that they may at any time be considered foreign, as this flies in the face of the obvious truth that the whole of Creation actually belongs to the English, and that they are just allowing everybody else to camp out on bits of it from a national sense of noblesse oblige.”

“A census taker once tried to test me. I let my front garden eat him.”

“Our Lady Ninuka has a hobby. Whenever she sees a man who interests her in a certain way, she isn’t happy until that man has joined her for an evening of spot.” It was obvious from Cabal’s face that he was working down a list of possible sports. The slight expression of consternation indicated that he had arrived at cricket. Leonie decided to pit him out of his misery. “She’s a bike. A tart. A slut. She’ll be buried in a Y-shaped coffin….” p 136

Johannes Cabal The Detective is one of my all time favourite books. The characters are fun, the dialogue is witty and the world Howard expands on is interesting. One moment the book is laugh out loud funny and the next, Howard hits you where it hurts.
  • Snarky protagonist
  • Witty dialogue that's super quotable
  • Fun side characters
  • The short story at the end
  • The climax is a little rushed
Plot - 8
Characters - 9.5
Setting - 9
Writing Style - 9
Enjoyability - 9.5
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Alexandra is always looking for the next book she can devour. She has a love hate relationship with teen fiction specifically when it comes to fantasy, post apocalyptic and failed shakespeare adaptations.

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