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by Max Byrd
Turner, October 2012
324 pages
ISBN: 1618580124

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's 1929, and Toby Keats is a newspaper reporter for the Paris bureau of the Chicago Tribune. His life is pretty uneventful until he comes into possession of a rare automate, a very strange mechanical duck built by eighteenth century inventor Jacques de Vaucanson. The duck was designed to ingest food and process it through its digestive system; as a result, it is often referred to as "the Shitting Duck." Vaucanson also designed other automates, the best-known being a flute player that actually played a flute and one known as the Bleeding Man, which may or may not have been completed. The Bleeding Man was a full-sized human body made of glass or wax through which you could see its organs and intestines, real blood flowing through rubber veins and a heart that pumped it.

A young woman named Elsie Short who works as a doll collector for Thomas Edison claims that the duck belongs to her. An eccentric banker who collects automates wants the duck for his collection; however, there is also a group of thugs determined to steal it to aid the German war effort. Supposedly, the duck holds the key to a miniature gyroscope that they could use to guide unmanned rockets. Toby and Elsie work together to unravel the mystery of the duck before it can fall into the wrong hands and cause devastation.

The problem with this book is that there is that Byrd too often digresses from the primary plot. For example, he writes at great length about Toby's past experience as a tunneler during the war. It was fascinating to learn what that involved, but it really wasn't very relevant to the main story. Similarly, he presents an enormous amount of research regarding Vaucanson, much more than was necessary. The information on the automates was intriguing, but it felt like a history of the art rather than an integral part of the plot. Each of these topics was intrinsically interesting, but there was too much of a good thing in each case.

Byrd is a best-selling historical novelist, and he excels at presenting little-known historical tidbits that serve to enhance the narrative. He really brings Paris of the 1920s to life, and his portrayal of the times is flawless.

Formerly a training development manager for a large company, Maddy is now retired and continues to enable the addiction of crime fiction fans as owner of the online discussion group, 4 Mystery Addicts(4MA), while avidly reading in every possible free moment herself.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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