****Posted as a guest review over at Paranormalhaven.com****It’s pretty rare that I come across a protagonist that I really have no liking for at all, yet really enjoy the story. I requested the book because I really liked the excerpt that I came across on the Carina Press website. Christopher Beats’ Vacant Graves has several different elements- steampunk, mystery, and noir all rolled into one. It’s a combination that I’ve haven’t read before, but it’s definitely a fabulous mash-up of various genres.Set in an alternate universe where the North lost the War of Southern Secession, we meet Donovan Schist, an ex-Pinkerton agent turned detective, at a train station where he’s been hired to retrieve a young lady by the name of Phoebe Mosey. Phoebe’s family hired Schist to retrieve her from notorious criminal Stanny Slash. When they’re traveling on the train, Schist and Phoebe are waylaid by a group of ruffians, and their boss, MacAllard. He offers an opportunity to the ex-Pinkerton detective to do a little work for him. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Schist agrees to investigate on behalf of MacAllard.Let me say this. The language of the book has this sort of odd rhythm or cadence to it. It’s actually what enticed me to pick up the novel in the first place. And while the book’s blurb (which apparently, I did not read closely enough) did give a hint that this was an alternative universe where the South won the War, the inherent racism in a couple of the characters kind of caught me off guard. At this point in the story, I’m not a real fan of Donovan Schist. He’s pragmatic, reminiscences coldly about his wife, and takes credit for things other people have done (mainly his wife and Phoebe Mosey). While all this is said and done, he’s still an extremely engaging character and that’s what kept me reading throughout the whole book. Caught in the middle of a brewing war between a mining company and the union, while dodging Stanny Slash, Donovan Schist must find a way to stay alive, and keep his charge, Phoebe, in one piece.Unlike a few steampunk books I’ve read that give rather light lip service to the inventions and their functions, this novel makes great use out the machines that are mentioned and it adds another dimension to the story overall. Vacant Graves has great pacing, the action scenes are tightly written and woven together well. While it does get violent at times, there is a point and purpose behind it, so I never viewed it as gratuitous. Vacant Graves is the 2nd book featuring Donovan Schist, but I had no problems keeping up with the storyline, although brief mentions of his wife do make curious to go back and check out his first novel, Cruel Numbers.