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Literature / Johannes Cabal the Detective

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The second novel in Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series. Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, is in a prison in the fictional Eastern European country of Mirkavia after attempting to steal a rare necromantic text. A plot is hatched by his jailor to exploit Cabal's talents, and Cabal soon uses the opportunity to escape in disguise aboard an aeroship leaving the country. However, while Cabal is still a wanted man in Mirkavia, what is on board the aeroship proves to be every bit as dangerous as it soon becomes clear that, in addition to a face Cabal never thought or hoped to see again, a killer is on board-and Cabal's efforts to find them is hampered by his disguise. Complications abound and soon even Cabal might be out of his depth.

Also included in the novel, as a sort of epilogue, is "The Tomb of Umtark Ktharl" which is framed as the story of an amateur spy in a private men's club telling his own adventure-in which he meets a certain necromancer.

Johannes Cabal the Detective has examples of:

They are nonplussed by the Mirkarvia disdain for tea.

  • Battle Discretion Shot: Of a sort-we see some of the first Marechal v. Cabal fight, but we don't see how it ends we just know that Cabal wins and escapes (its revealed later in a terrifically short chapter).
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Arguably, Leonie and Cabal. The two of them reluctantly respect and admire each other and when they're not contemplating killing or trying to have the other person arrested, they do make a pretty good team. There's also the fact that the two of them are forced to act as though they are besotted with each other in order to conceal Cabal's true identity, so in the eyes of nearly everyone on the Princess Hortense they are the Official Couple.
    • Also throw in the fact that Leonie Barrow is the in-universe Expy of the woman Cabal apparently became a necromancer for, and you can see why Cabal's feelings for Leonie are... conflicted.
  • Berserk Button: Johannes Cabal HATES it when people try to kill him. And considering that he's shot people simply for annoying him, one has to fear the depths of his hatred.
    • Cabal has another one-a downplayed example present throughout the series-that he does not like doctors and, worse yet, having people assume he is a doctor. When a chemist does so, Cabal gives him a murderous look.
    • Count Marechal (who fancies himself a "real" soldier) is all set to kill Cabal with a gun, until Cabal needles him with insults to trick him into a swordfight instead. The final nail in the coffin of the Count's rage? Being called an 'artillery officer.'
  • Brits Love Tea: Englishwoman Leonie is quite fond of tea, as does Cabal, who while German born, grew-up in England.
  • Came Back Wrong: Johannes is forced to reanimate Emperor Antrobus II to hide his death. His public address quickly lapses into a rant about brain-eating, and Johannes makes a discreet exit just as the Antrobus-zombie loses every pretense of reason and tries to chow down on the nearest person.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Defied by Cabal, who (awoken by a commotion in the next room and a knock on his door) knows that sitting bolt upright just alerts whatever's after him that he's awake.
  • Chaste Anti-Hero: Johannes Cabal is this with some shades of Celibate Anti-Hero. He can't even tell when the resident Femme Fatale is making a pass at him and just thinks that she has an unnatural fascination with the macabre. This amuses Leonie Barrow to no end.
    Leonie: Your look of gormless incomprehension as the tigress circled you will keep me amused for many years to come, I'm sure.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Cabal cheats in order to beat Count Marechal and escape.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: Much to Cabal's irritation when he realizes that while he may be a criminal mastermind, he still would rather be on the side of humanity than with genuinely evil, opportunistic leeches like Moretti or Marechal which is what prompts him to go back to the aeroship.
    Sometimes he wished he still lacked a soul. It hurt so much.
  • The Conspiracy: There is a plot aboard the Princess Hortense, with many people involved from those on location to high levels of the Mirkavian government.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: Mirkarvia, and all its neighboring countries. The Princess Hortense would count as well.
  • Cool Airship: With all of its bells and whistles, the zeppelin qualifies.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Cabal, who carries a gun, a switchblade knife, and a cane sword concealing a 3-foot steel blade.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Cabal again.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Lady Ninuka is the daughter of Count Marechal, and shares her parent's sociopathy.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Colonel Konstantin. He refuses to go along with the Count Marechal's new regime as it offends his sense of honor. Marechal does not respond well.
  • Dye or Die: Subverted-Cabal plans to dye his hair (with the narration giving a description of how he makes his own-since buying hair dye leaves a purchase trail-that turns his very blond hair brown and washes out with vinegar) but never gets quite that far.
  • Enemy Mine: Why Leonie chooses to ally herself with a sociopath like Cabal. In her words:
    Set a monster to catch a monster, Cabal.
  • Femme Fatale: Lady Ninuka-she uses seduction as her primary weapon but she's quite comfortable with death and violence as well.
  • Frame-Up: Cabal frames Leonie as a Necromancer in order to distract Senzan authorities while he makes yet another escape. Unfortunately for him Leonie gets out rather quickly and when she finds him again, she is far from happy.
  • Genre Shift: Cabal does mystery with a dash of Diesel Punk-the fantastic elements of the first novel (and most of the other Cabal tales) are gone replaced by murder mystery and adventure. Then, in the epilogue, Cabal does Indiana Jones.
  • Hand Cannon: Cabal's gun.
    Cabal: A gun is a tool for killing. It isn't an enterprise that calls for subtlety, only certainty.
  • Hero Antagonist: Leonie Barrow is this, but in a very minor way being a secondary antagonist-she wants to turn Cabal in to Senzan authorities but first, she and Cabal have to survive the aeroship voyage-her refusal to just out Cabal as a necromancer (tantamount to killing him) makes her a much lesser threat than the Mirkavians.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Cabal has a very difficult time figuring out how a murderer or group of murderers managed to kill two people and evade the attention of the airship's crew, until he realizes the captain and crew were behind the killings all along.
  • Hindenburg Incendiary Principle: The plot takes place aboard a luxury Zepplin which naturally ends up crashing (due to sabotage), with few survivors.
  • Honor Before Reason: Cabal calls Leonie this when she decides to return to the Princess Hortense to finish the investigation because it's the right thing to do, despite Cabal telling her that it will most likely end in her getting killed as well.
  • Humans Are Bastards:
    Humanity is a despicable mass, Herr Zoruk, and ill-suited to the compassion of romantics.
  • Infraction Distraction: The Senzan authorities are convinced that the Mirkavian government is using the Princess Hortense to smuggle weapons to an allied nation to be used in a latter joint attack, so their customs agents spend a very long time poking through the unusually large amount of cargo contained in the airship. To their chagrin, they find nothing in their exhaustive search. By focusing on the cargo, they fail to notice that the Princess Hortense is actually a warship, not a passenger liner; the plan was to simply arm it later.
  • Interrogating the Dead: Johannes temporarily reanimates a murder victim to question for information about the murderer. It's doubly gruesome for Leonie to watch, since it only provides a brief imitation of life that slowly leaks out of the body, taking the panicked and increasingly incoherent soul with it.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Cabal soon deduces that the first man to die, De Garre, did not commit suicide despite that seeming likely-but that only raises more questions as the room was locked.
  • Long List: When trying to explain to Cabal what Orfilia's interest in him is, Leonine goes for an exhaustive list. Its only the last one, a technical term, that seems to get Cabal's attention.
    Leonie:She's a bike. A tart. A slut. She'll be buried in a Y-shaped coffin. A baggage. A hussy. She's the good time that was had by all. A wanton floozy. A nymphomaniac".
  • MacGyvering: A simple trip to the local drug store and Cabal can create hair dye, reagents to revive the dead, and time bombs.
  • Noodle Incident: "Cabal could not have been more horrified if she'd pulled off her face to reveal a gaping chasm of eternal night from which glistening tentacles coiled and groped. That had already happened to him once in his life and he wasn't keen to repeat the experience".
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Implied with Cacon, who is revealed to actually be a Senzan agent, and attracts Cabal's attention prior to The Reveal with an out-of-character display of intelligence. Also, the seemingly harmless Harlmann turns out to actually be a con artist/professional criminal.
  • Oblivious to Love: Well, not love so much as lust. Cabal's razor sharp intellect fails him with regards to the wiles of the opposite sex so when Lady Ninuka tries to put the moves on him he is completely lost. Leonie has to spell it out for him before he realizes it.
    • This is averted when Cabal is approached by Leonie-he doesn't know who she is, as he's looking out a window as they talk, he thinks he might be in the middle of getting "picked up".
  • Occam's Razor: Both subverted and played straight.
  • One Bullet Left: A variation as both the hero and the villain only have one bullet, as Cabal and Marechal are both firing revolvers in a tilting aeroship until they find themselves out of cover and with a moment's stability.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Subverted with Cacon's death.
  • Oop North: Its noted (though not displayed in the spelling) that Leonine is from Northwest England and thus has a distinct accent.
  • Phenotype Stereotype: Cabal invents a temporary hair dye for himself after noting that his blonde-ness makes it hard to go unnoticed when trying to escape a foreign country-notably while he plans to turn his hair brown he also plans to play up his native Hessen accent.
  • Photographic Memory: Allows the slightly obsessive-compulsive Cabal to realize that one piece of carpet is out of place.
  • Precision F-Strike: When talking to Cabal Leonine finally realizes how damaged he is and simply asks him "How did you ever become so very fucked up?" Cabal isn't even insulted, and notably doesn't have an answer.
  • Properly Paranoid: Cabal, much to his chagrin.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Cabal leaves Mirkarvia in a state of civil war. Both figuratively, and literally.
  • Ruritania: Mirkavia and it's neighbors. In fact Ruritania is actually mentioned in a throwaway line.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Umtark Kthar's tomb is somewhat misnamed-as he seems somewhat immortal. Instead he was imprisoned in stone and water-for seven hundred years a stream washed over him, a baptism of sorts that did absolutely nothing to wash away his evil.
  • Shout-Out: Marechal and Cabal have a discussion about guns (where Cabal's Hand Cannon quote comes in) and Marechal utters the famous line 'guns don't kill people. People kill people.' Ever the pragmatist, Cabal replies that guns make it so much easier.
    • When Cabal suggests re-animating a corpse for information, Leonine is disgusted and says he must be joking. Cabal says "I never joke about my work".
    • Cabal's experiments are noted as being able to make Victor Frankenstein frown.
    • Cabal's whole adventure started because he was prevented from stealing a necromantic text by a large library guard dog-which is a reference to "The Dunwich Horror" by Lovecraft, in which Wilbur Whateley is killed by a library guard dog while trying to steal a copy of The Necronomicon.
    • The narration mentions "the curious case of the defenestrated De Garre" and "the adventure of the ersatz civil servant" both of which sound like titles to Sherlock Holmes stories, and it's mentioned that solving cases rarely depends on encyclopedic knowledge of tobacco ash, something Holmes published a monograph on.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Zoruk-he's a young poet type who rails against the horrors of war machines.
  • Spy Versus Spy: Pretty much everyone aboard the Princess Hortense except for Zoruk, De Garre, Leonie and Miss Ambersleigh has an secret identity, mission, or at least an ulterior motive. The first two end up dead as a result of the multiple conspiracies taking place.
  • A Tankard of Moose Urine: Subverted. Johannes expects the dark, slightly viscous beer he is served in Mirkarvia to be another way for the locals to show off their Testosterone Poisoning, but while it is brewed strong (20 proof, which is roughly 10% abv, or double the strength of most beers and on par with many light wines), smells worryingly like coagulated dragon blood and only comes in massive steins, the actual flavor is very pleasant.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Leonie Barrow and Cabal are pretty much forced to do this in order to unravel the conspiracy on the aeroship even while trying to outmaneuver each other.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: This is presented as being a big part of Mirkarvia patriotism and mores, and is expressed variously in extreme jingoism and a love of unpleasant cuisines they consider "masculine"-their soup is oxtail with what Cabal suggests is boiled bull blood, their men drink wine in massive wide-mouth glasses (the women get flutes), when Cabal asks for a beer instead-hoping to avoid a huge glass-he gets the most massive stein he's ever seen and beer that is 20 proof (most beers are around half that), and Count Marechal is seen drinking a glass of something that resembles de-icing fluid.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Leonie Barrow goes from the sweet Girl Next Door in the The Necromancer to a Badass Bookworm studying criminal psychology, is a capable investigator and who can match wits with Johannes Cabal himself.
  • Upbringing Makes the Hero: The reason why Leonie pursues justice and law in contrast to Cabal's self-interested chaotic nature:
    Leonie: To answer your question, because it's the right thing to do.
    Cabal: What your father would do, you mean.
    Leonie: It's the same thing. It usually is.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Several times, Cabal considers assaulting, even killing Leonie Barrow for the sake of maintaining his cover or out of self-preservation. But he refrains, not from compassion or conscience but because it would be too troublesome. He later kills a female assassin without a second's hesitation.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The aeroship Cabal is on isn't like a dirigible full of lighter than air gas-instead it uses gyroscopic levitators and magneto-etheric line guides to 'pull' itself through the air along the earth's own magnetic fields.