BOOK REVIEW: Silhouette

by Justin Richards

Out Now

Review by Andrea McGuire

Silhouette is one of a raft of new Twelfth Doctor novels from BBC Books. This novel sees the Doctor and Clara reunite with the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax in Victorian London to solve a strange series of murders that all lead back to the Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating shows and performers.

It starts with Madame Vastra, the great detective, investigating the locked-door murder of Marlowe Hepworth in his study, while Strax looks to avenge the death of pugilistic Rick Bellamy, whose life was drawn out of him by a mysterious figure dressed as an undertaker.

An indeterminate time after the events of Listen, The Doctor and Clara abandon Clara’s plan to visit King Arthur as the TARDIS shows an impossible power spike from a post-nuclear weapon in Victorian London. Spurning the opportunity to seek out the Paternoster Gang, the Doctor leads Clara to the Frost Fair and the Carnival of Curiosities, where no strongman or mermaid corpse can impress The Doctor. Rather, the only thing to capture his interest is the puppet show of the beautiful Silhouette. And rightly so, since Silhouette’s paper puppets deliver magic without any apparent strings or rods.

Equally mysterious - and very deadly - are the origami birds found in both Marlowe Hepworth’s study and a warehouse owned by wealthy industrialist Orestes Milton, a man who appears to be out of time.

And the story of Milton is where Silhouette becomes something quite special. A good, old fashioned greedy arms-dealer villain, Milton is both charming and utterly despicable. Completely lacking in any conscience or morals as he prepares to do a show-and-tell of his latest deadly project to prospective buyers, Milton will use anyone and anything to bag a sale. Using crystal manipulation on three altered humans - Silhouette, Affinity and Empath (the undertaker figure) - Milton manipulates their character strengths to his own horrid ends. He even manages to trap the Doctor, Clara, Vastra and Jenny and forces them to watch on in helpless horror and he launches his weapon on a the population of London.

Justin Richards gives the reader a novel that never once loses pace and the momentum of the action keeps going throughout. The story is consistently satisfying and the concepts of the characteristics of Affinity and Empath are especially well done; indeed Affinity gives us (if not The Doctor) some very welcome old faces during a notably enjoyable chase scene. The dialogue is particularly pleasurable and Strax gets some of the best lines, even believing that “Miss” is a rank when addressing “boy” Clara.

Milton’s weapon itself is one of abject horror and The Doctor brings together the characters from the Carnival of Curiosities in order to defeat it and to see off our loathsome villain. While the manner in which the Doctor defeats Milton’s weapon has more than a whiff of Gorgonzola, it’s so well done that you can easily accept it for what it is; an appropriate way to give an ugly menace a good drubbing.

While there are no huge leaps forward in the relationship between The Doctor and Clara in Silhouette, what Richards gives us here is an established Doctor/Clara relationship with each well drawn and completely relatable, so much so that one can nod in admiration at the portrayal of each while being completely immersed in this thoroughly entertaining adventure.


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