“Hand in Glove”by Ysabeau S. Wilce. In Steampunk!, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. Candlewick Press. 2011.
So, what the hell is steampunk? My unexpert explanation is that it is a subgenre of fantasy that creates a nineteenth century that never was, using technology the Victorians had, or could have had, or is based on scientific theories of the day that didn’t pan out.
Pre-cursors of the field include the Walt Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the TV show The Wild Wild West.
My wife is the main consumer of science fiction and fantasy in my household but she steered me to this story because it is indeed a police procedural, and a very entertaining one.
Some fantasy or alternative history stories create elaborate outlines (in words or in actual charts) of their worlds, but Wilce doesn’t take that route. We don’t learn much about Califa, the place where this story takes place, although the name and Spanish nomenclature of some of the characters certainly suggest California, and the climate and geography suggest we are in what we would call San Francisco.
When the story opens the most celebrated cop in the city is being congratulated on closing another case: a terrifying strangler has just been convicted. But one rookie cop, Estreyo, doesn’t believe they have the right man. She is a believer in scientific crime solving, using such new techniques as fingerprints, and doesn’t trust the instinctual approach of the pretty boy hero detective.
Unfortunately she finds that the fingerprints of the murderer match those of a young man who died before the killings began. Either the theory of fingerprinting is wrong, or something very weird is going on. This being steampunk you can probably guess that it is the latter.
Before the mystery is solved you will see nods to several classic works of literature or film. The writing is light and witty One complaint: there are three important characters who all appear in the same scene and have last names beginning with E. Why make life hard on the reader that way?