It took me many years to learn patience. Despite my decidedly calm current demeanour, I definitely had a temper-dappled childhood. One such instance, or series of instances as I never learned, was my relationship with Where’s Wally. These densely packed and intricately drawn megapictures were a constant torment for my prepubescent self. What should have been a simple activity, that of locating the titular striped nomad, became an exercise in frustration. This was not because I couldn’t locate Wally, but because I would stumble upon so many other characters and situations that were infinitely more interesting. Why should I bother with a bobble-hatted tourist when there’s a wizard bouncing on a trampoline – oh wait what’s that? An alien with a – and that – and that – and that!?
My childhood self was dissatisfied with the task given to him when there countless other astonishing stories I would rather follow. I realise now that I was probably overstimulated and overtired. Regardless, it was an issue I felt strongly about. This is the very same hang-up I have with Veronica Britton: Chronic Detective. There is just so much going on!
The book is a London-based time travelling epic that leaps around numerous pasts and various imagined futures following the adventures of time-jumping Adele Blanc-Sec type, Veronica Britton, and her plucky, gifted but inexperienced companion Gabrielle Pendleton. My choice of the word companion is a conscious one as N.P. Boyce’s previous work includes a story for an audio collection of Doctor Who short fiction. He is clearly an avid fan. To the point where Veronica Britton: Chronic Detective sometimes feels a little like fan fiction. He has had a multitude of ideas regarding the Doctor Who universe and without the shackles of canon he has let them all loose.
What starts as a murder mystery becomes an all out war and a chronological labyrinth that can be as tricky for the reader to navigate as the protagonists. Somewhere along the line they meet an army of identical men that intricate knowledge of time and space, the everlasting king of London, and perhaps-aliens-perhaps-super-advanced-protohumans. And that’s just the half of it. There’s a lot to keep hold of crammed into one book. My aversion to the rise of franchising in literature has had the knock-on effect of making my distrust the trilogy, but I really think Veronica Britton: Chronic Detective would have worked marvellously if split into three separate books. Even though Boyce splits the book into four parts, it feels very much like three, each with a different goal for the characters and even a different feel.
Now that my issues with the story are out of the way, I can genuinely say that I enjoyed the ideas within the book. As a lover of London, speculative fiction and rollicking good adventures, I was pleasantly satisfied. Veronica Britton delivers all of those by the bucketload. As a first novel N.P. Boyce has shown himself to be a highly skilled world-builder and more than adept at weaving multiple strands into a larger story. I’m keen to see what he creates next, though perhaps he could learn a lesson in patience from my childhood self. Not all the ideas have to go in at once!
Veronica Britton is published by Salt’s Sci-fi and fantasy imprint, Proxima and is out now.
Review by Nick Murray