Jigsaw Men by Gary Greenwood
PS Publishing (UK) PubDate: 10/15/03
Review by John Berlyne
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Of the many types of genre stories I get to read, I think I get the most pleasure from those that fuse together history and fiction. I'm not talking alternative history here - though I like those kinds of stories too! Instead I'm thinking specifically about stories that use a particular (often well known) fictional idea and breath new life into it. I'm sure that there is some collective and cool term for this kind of story - but I really don't have clue what it might be!
Of those proponents of this sub-genre, Kim Newman is undoubtedly the master - his Anno Dracula series charts an alternative British Empire in which the infamous Count marries Queen Victoria and the future that has sprung from that union has proved fertile ground for Newman. He has gone on to set these stories in other time frames, one of the most recent being Andy Warhol's Dracula, one of the earliest releases from Pete Crowther's ground-breaking PS Publishing. Another fine example of what Newman can do can be found in the Gollancz anthology Dark Terrors 6 - his story "A Drug on the Market" explores the possibilities had Doctor Jekyll's infamous cocktail been picked up and marketed by some Victorian entrepreneur. A great story that is well worth a look. One must also mention Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which takes this idea of fusing fiction together a stage further - I'd recommend the original graphic novel over the movie, by the way.
And so on to Gray Greenwood's Jigsaw Men, this review of which I begin with mentioning Newman's work purely because it is founded upon a not dissimilar conceit. Not Dracula here, but Frankenstein - specifically the theorem discovered by the German scientist. In the highly inventive world of Greenwood's novella, the mad doctor's work permeates modern society. The "Jiggers" form the backbone of Britain's armed forces - an powerful and almost inexhaustible army, upon the strength of which Britannia has built her empire. Indeed, though Greenwood's story is present day, he has worked out a historical timeline that beautifully factors in this premise. In Greenwood's world, the might of the First World War German forces were repelled and subdued by the heat ray technology that had fallen into the hands of the British following their put down of the Martian invasion. As part of the peace treaty, the Germans were forced to hand over the Frankenstein theorem and thus Britain truly became Great.
All of this is background to Greenwood's narrative, which is essentially a crime thriller, albeit one that could not be written outside of this wonderfully fused fictional setting. The daughter of Government minister Lord Trafalgar has gone missing and Metropolitan Police Detective Livingstone (and you're right to presume there might a be a link!) is charged with finding her. His search takes him deep into London's seedy underworld, where he encounters the Jigger pornography racket that Miss Trafalgar seems to have been sucked into. There he uncovers a conspiracy which threatens the security of His Majesty's empire and Livingstone must overcome his innate hatred of the Jigsaw Men (the origins of which lie with his famous father) to save both the girl and the country.
It's not an overly complicated plot, and though there are occasional thin patches in Greenwood's novella, it really is a highly entertaining read all round. Additionally there's plenty of fictional mileage in Greenwood's world and I'm excited to be hearing on the grapevine rumblings of a possible sequel. In due course I look forward to recommending that to you as well. Jigsaw Men is released as a smart limited edition in two states - add it to your collection without delay!