But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.
Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?
A PAIR OF RATHER LARGE, blue-green beetles buzzed north over the River Thames, weaving back and forth over the water’s surface in that haphazard pattern that beetles fly. Had they bothered to look, the early morning joggers in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens—wrapped up against the December cold in their leggings and winter caps—might have caught the glint of the rising sun reflecting off iridescent wings. Had they looked even closer, they might even have wondered if those wings were made of some strange metal alloy.
But they did not look. No one ever does.
The bugs did not go entirely unnoticed. A pike leaped outof the river and snatched one from the air for breakfast. Asthe fish splashed down with its meal, the remaining beetlehalted its progress and hovered, buzzing impatiently. The murky brown depths lit up with a muted blue flash and thepike floated lifeless to the surface, a look of dreadful shock in its round eye. The captured beetle crawled out of its gill,shook off a bit of fish goo with an indignant flutter of its clockwork wings, and rejoined its companion in flight.
The beetles left the Thames at Parliament and flew skyward, hugging the eastern wall of the House of Lords. Upon reaching the rooftop, they continued north, dodging dozens of Gothic spires and hundreds of pigeon spikes, before climbing again, this time flying up the southern wall of the Great Clock Tower—known to the world as Big Ben.
They alighted on the giant minute hand, rested a moment to watch the long morning shadow of the tower recede along Bridge Street, and then, with the rapid clicking of six metal legs apiece, they crawled down to the hub and wound their way inside.
In the quiet chamber below the clock, Constable Henry Biddle sipped his morning tea. Certainly, sitting in an uncomfortable folding chair and guarding the door to an old staircase was not the post he envisioned when he had joined the Metropolitan Police the year before, but one had to start a career in law enforcement somewhere. Besides, left unguarded, the rickety iron stairs and the open-air bell platform at the top were a real danger to overcurious tourists.
A dull, metallic clunk interrupted Biddle midway through a long sip. He lowered his paper cup and turned in his seat to stare at the lock on the upper stairwell door. He stared, in fact, for quite some time, but the old iron lock made no other sound.
Odd. Biddle gave the door a frown to let it know who was in charge, then returned his gaze to the lower stairwell door across the chamber and raised his tea again. Once more, he was interrupted by a noise—static from his radio. He let out a dissatisfied grunt as he set the tea down next to his chair. Couldn’t a man have some peace at the start of a long shift?
“Nigel, I couldn’t read your last,” he said, raising the radio. “If you’re looking for a report, all’s quiet in the upper stairwell.”
Even as he made the transmission, Biddle noticed movement on the radio. He held it farther from his face and saw an enormous beetle perched on the dial, beautiful, with shimmering faceted wings and silvery legs. If it hadn’t moved, he would have taken it for ajeweled trinket. “Oi. Bug. What’re you doing there?”
The beetle’s wings quivered. “All’s quiet in the upper stairwell.”
Biddle’s eyes widened at the sound of his own voice. “What the devil—”
The bug launched itself straight at Biddle’s face. A resounding zap and a blue-white flash filled the chamber, followed by a light sizzle and the lingering scent of burning hair. The constable slumped in his chair. His checkered hat fell from his head, knocking over the paper cup and sending a river of tea winding through the joints and crevices of the old stone floor.