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Topsy Turvy - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
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Topsy Turvy
Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley
This was another volume that was already on my "to-read" list when I found it in the work book sale. It is London, 1883: Thaniel Steepleton is a telegraphist working for the Home Office, and he receives messages warning of an Irish republican attack to take place in six months' time. On arrival home one evening, he also discovers his flat has been broken into, but nothing has been taken. Instead, a pocket watch has been left for him. Six months later, several bombs explode as predicted all over London, but Thaniel escapes serious injury because an alarm goes off on his watch that causes him to step outside a building. This event leads him to seek out the watchmaker, engraved on the device only as "K Mori", in an attempt to discover how he has come by the watch.

It turns out Mori is the illegitimate offspring of a Japanese aristocrat. One feels unease at the apparently benign character of Mori; it seems there must be something to his impervious and resigned attitude. He has a room to let, and Thaniel decides to take it. His contacts at Scotland Yard ask him to inform on Mori, who is under suspicion for the clockwork used in the bombs.

Meanwhile, Grace Carrow is completing her studies at Oxford, attempting to prove the existence of the ether. She has a similar watch to Steepleton's, and the two eventually meet at a Foreign Office Ball.

Mori takes Steepleton to the Japanese Village established in London at the time, where, as chance would have it, they stumble upon Gilbert and Sullivan researching The Mikado.

It turns out that Mori is clairvoyant - he remembers the future, and seems determined to bring it about - whether helpless in this or in control of it is ambiguous. The remainder of the book focuses on the relationships between these three characters and the resolution of the bomb plot.

I did find it interesting to compare the plot, and the science, with The Time Traveler's Wife - in this case seeing into the future rather than uncontrollably jumping around time, and the use of the ether theory - contemporary for the time - as an explanation, is clever, and even though it was eventually disproved, the way things are constructed allows for the knowledgeable reader to consider fantasy quantum mechanics as an alternative explanation. I particularly enjoyed the Gilbert and Sullivan cameos. There are a few unexpected twists and turns; some aspects of the resolution surprised me, and weren't as satisfying for me as a more conventional conclusion might have been, but on the whole, I'd recommend this.

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