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by Claire O’Dell
Harper Voyager (July 31, 2018)
304 p. ISBN 9780062699305
Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.
Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.
Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.
I think most people could guess by now that I love twists on the classic Holmes story. While I do enjoy the more traditional pastiche—give me a Lyndsay Faye story any day!—there is something that continues to intrigue me about pastiches that do something different to our characters. Holmes and Watson were, after all, men of their time, even if they were eccentric. Pastiches that throw them into different times, different genders, different sexualities, different abilities help shine a light on what makes a Holmes and a Watson intrinsically Holmes-and-Watson, in my mind; they are conductors of light.
One can imagine my sheer and utter excitement when, while doing my monthly search for upcoming Holmesian novels, I found A Study in Honor on the list. Holmes and Watson in the near (somewhat dystopian, utterly plausible) future, as Black queer women? I am pretty sure I screamed myself hoarse, and then proceeded to digitally scream on my twitter and Facebook and tumblr. I hopped right over to Edelweiss, which had ARCs available, and requested it. When I didn’t hear back right away, I requested it again. And also reached out to the author to squeal at her. Thankfully, Edelweiss came through, and I soon had a fresh, shiny ARC on my Nook.
I plowed this book in a day. I considered savoring it, taking my time with it, but I just couldn’t. The characters were too fascinating; the plot was too intense. O’Dell has created an amazing pastiche, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The worldbuilding is, in some ways, sparse—O’Dell doesn’t spend a lot of time providing an info dump, especially given the book takes place in the near future. Yet despite the sparse worldbuilding, it all works, because of how close it takes place to our present. The things described are all too plausible, all too real, for better or worse. A second Civil War is happening when the book opens. Janet Watson is a veteran of that war, her arm destroyed in the fighting and fitted with a prosthetic that feels only one generation removed from current prosthetic advancements (and, in many ways, doesn’t quite live up to current prosthetic science, as Janet is given one that doesn’t quite suit her; much of her struggle throughout the book is navigating the VA, trying to get a prosthetic that actually works correctly for her, something we’ve all certainly read about or perhaps personally experienced). Sara Holmes has a device that allows the Internet to be downloaded right into her brain, something that seems too real as things like Google Glass come onto the market; it’s not too far a stretch to imagine that soon we’ll just have implants in our head.
Sara Holmes herself is an enigma, at times frustratingly so. I wish there had been a more explicit conversation about what, precisely, she does, as I found the secrecy around her work confusing for the reader, and not just for Janet, but despite that issue, I found her utterly charming. I can easily see someone falling under her spell and being endlessly intrigued by her. I loved the updates to the classic Holmes; I can absolutely see Victorian Holmes wanting implants that would give him access to all the information in the world. I was tickled by the fact that Sara Holmes plays the piano, rather than the violin. Her solicitous nature with Janet was adorable. Though Watsons are always intrigued by Holmeses, it’s so rare to really see, in depth, a Holmes intrigued by a Watson, as Sara clearly is with Janet. And her masterful quality was hilarious, especially since it always put Janet on her back foot.
I will fully admit that I found the plot somewhat convoluted at times. I think a second read through would make things clearer to me, and others may not have that problem; as I said, I read this book so quickly, I could easily have missed things. Despite knowing that I missed things, I found the mystery absolutely heart-wrenching. I don’t want to get into it much, as I feel like anything I write about it leads to spoilers, but the victims are what drive the case, and drive Janet the entire time. Her determination to give them justice drove the story. It was wonderfully done, and I still tear up when I think of Belinda Diaz.
I would like to add in a good word for the secondary characters as well. Jacob Bell, RN Roberta Thompson, Saul Martinez, even the weasely Terrence Smith, are richly drawn. I would love to see some of them become recurring characters, because I loved them as much as I loved Janet and Sara.
There are two particular things I want to mention about this book that might give people pause. It is a very political book, and if you are looking to escape politics for the time being, you may wish to consider this; and most importantly, this book about two queer Black women is written by a white woman. As a white woman myself, I do not feel qualified to say if she did well by the characters in terms of their race. However, here is what I do know: O’Dell’s editor is Amber Oliver, a Black woman; she lists having taken a Writing the Other workshop in her acknowledgements; she had many readers look over her book. It does appear she has done some work in trying to avoid stereotypes and poor representation.
I am very much looking forward to owning a copy of this book when it comes out in July. I suspect it will take a place of honour on my Sherlock Holmes shelves, as it’s certainly one of the most ambitious and intriguing pastiches I’ve read in a while.
This is entirely Janet Watson’s book. I have read a number of fine Watsons in my goal of providing reviews for the Society. Some of them have even been excellent. But Janet really takes the cake, because she isn’t a strong-willed narrator of Holmes’ adventures, as so frequently happens. Instead, Janet is entirely her own person, with her own hopes and dreams and loves and history outside of Holmes, and the book focuses on her struggles and desires as she steps into a realm that has always been helmed by a Holmes.
I want to spend a moment on Watson as a war veteran. One of my ongoing… I won’t say frustrations, but perhaps disappointments, is that pastiche writers don’t do more with Watson post-war. I have always wanted to see a Watson with a more consistent war wound than ACD gave him, one that impacts him in a real way. I’ve also always hoped that some writer (whether of a book or a film/TV show) would explore the idea of Watson having PTSD, as there is certainly fodder for such in canon. I’ve seen the occasional pastiche or adaptation make an attempt, but across the board, it’s been rather half-hearted. A Study in Honor, though, stares unflinchingly at Janet Watson’s war wounds, both physical and mental. Much of Janet’s internal conflict comes from her struggles to get a prosthesis that actually works, and her turmoil over losing her arm and learning to adapt in a world that has little interest in adapting for her. Her PTSD is visceral, in a way that I finally recognize, with certain sounds, phrases, smells, triggering flashbacks and memories. She regularly sees a therapist, and opens up to her, attempting to heal and thrive, rather than remain stuck in her survival instincts. The depiction of trauma in this book, with Janet and with others, is raw and hard and beautifully done.
Janet is also a woman who takes no shit from her Holmes, which everyone knows I’m a sucker for. I like a Watson who is willing to push back, to demand respect, to even yell at times at a Holmes. I like a Watson who won’t be steamrolled. Janet is that kind of Watson. While she concedes certain battles (I teared up about the journal), she is also willing to fight back against Holmes and her casual acceptance that she’s in control at all times. I loved the ongoing sneakiness over the text device, for example, and Watson’s dismissal of the gifts that Holmes continued to offer. I laughed heartily over her continued rejection of Holmes’ pet names for her. Janet Watson clearly trusts Sara Holmes, but also refuses to blithely accept her word; she wants answers and explanations, and demands them when Sara is less than immediately forthcoming.
Janet is deeply loyal, to her patients, to her military comrades, and Holmes, as well as compassionate; she is also tenacious and stubborn, qualities I do love in a Watson. Her determination to heal, to solve the case, to bring justice to the victims is present throughout the entire story. I can think of nothing better to sum it up than to provide a quote from Janet’s journal (journaling is important throughout the entire book; we frequently get to read Janet’s journal as she writes it): “I WILL HAVE MY VICTORY. I WILL HAVE MY LIFE BACK. I SWEAR IT.”
I really can’t ask for more from my Watsons. Janet is an absolute treat, and I think any Watsonian will love her.
Dystopian futures; recovery stories; tough yet vulnerable women protagonists; conspiracy theories
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by Rohase Piercy with Charlie Raven
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 2017)
192 p. ISBN 9781539782209
Summer 1890. Guy Clements, spoilt, rich and charming, has invited his friend Max Fareham to spend a month of hedonistic leisure at his London residence. Meanwhile below stairs, clever, streetwise Madeleine Peterson is hatching a scheme to lift herself out of domestic service and her brother Michael out of prostitution. A few streets away, amateur spy Louis la Rothiere is gloating over his latest cache which may, just may, turn out to be the scoop of a lifetime.
An apparently straightforward case of domestic pilfering is about to take an unexpected turn involving blackmail, mistaken identity, War Office documents and the love that dare not speak its name – and for once, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson find themselves repeatedly and hilariously wrong-footed.
A Case of Domestic Pilfering strikes me as a comedy of manners rather than the most traditional of pastiches—and I don’t mean that as a critique because having the comedy of manners style applied to a Holmesian narrative was immensely satisfying. Throughout the story I was reminded of Wilde and his characters, particularly those found in The Importance of Being Earnest or Lady Windermere’s Fan.
The comedy of manners aspect comes through most strongly with the two central characters of the book, Guy and Max. Guy and Max are immensely enjoyable to watch; Guy is dramatic and a bit overblown, while Max is the quieter, more practical of the two. They have a fascinating relationship dynamic, simultaneously sweet (you root for their romance!) and exasperating (oh, Guy…). Having such characters encounter Holmes and Watson is endlessly entertaining, to the point where I laughed out loud throughout the entire story.
With Guy and Max as our central characters, we get to see an investigation by Holmes and Watson from a different angle. The story switches points of view quite a bit, so we do get to see the investigation from our normal perspective as well, but it’s fun to see how two suspects- one of whom hero worships Holmes- cope with interacting with our dynamic duo, especially when they’re not entirely sure what’s happening.
Because of the rotating points of view, we also get to see the investigation from the perspective of the actual criminals, which is just fantastic. Knowing what they think of being investigated by Holmes helps bring home just what an excellent detective he really is. One of the criminals any Holmesian will recognize, and I appreciated them being given a little more page space. And I adored the main criminal; they were sympathetic and understandable, while still also still doing something illegal, quite willingly. That ending, too! I clapped my hands with joy at the way it all comes together in the end.
This book is a short one, and the prose very simple. I was able to read it just over an hour, and longed for more. I would love to see another adventure involving Guy, Max, Holmes, and Watson, who play off of each other in the most spectacular ways. Watching Holmes react to Guy at his most outlandish was so, so satisfying; Max’s awe and bumbling around his hero/crush was sweetly hilarious. And of course, Watson helped guide them throughout their interactions.
The queer themes in the book are lovingly and subtly handled. The few kisses that we see Guy and Max share are a mix of sweet and passionate, depending, and their banter helps us get a grip on how much history they have between them, even though we never hear their full backstory. The presence of Michael in the story serves to highlight a potential avenue for our queer protagonists, as well as draw attention to a well-known, but less talked about, part of Victorian history (as well as far more modern history). I also enjoyed the small hints towards queerness in Holmes and Watson, though it’s never stated explicitly in the text if they ARE queer or not. This will probably appeal to readers who don’t particularly want Holmes or Watson to be read as queer; you can choose to do so or not as you please.
I’m quite thankful that the author sent me this book to review; it’s definitely one I’ll be returning to for a re-read whenever I want something that has that touch of humor to it, while still remaining faithful to who Holmes and Watson are in canon.
What an excellent Watson! The canon Watson shines through in this book in every way. We get to see Watson from the perspective of other characters throughout the story, and he’s consistently described as warm and kind and generous. It was so good to see other characters appreciating Watson.
From his very first appearance, Watson is depicted as compassionate. His part in the book begins with an average day in Baker Street, working on his writing and fretting about Holmes, and doing what he can to keep Holmes from turning to the cocaine/morphine. In the very same scene he’s shown to be clever enough to outwit Holmes at times, which instantly warmed me to this author and the story.
His acquaintanceship with Guy and Max is beautifully drawn, from his wry amusement at their antics to his genuine pleasure at being in their company. We almost never get to see Watson interact with his own group of friends or acquaintances, as attached as he is to Holmes, and I really enjoyed seeing who Watson is when he isn’t part of the Holmes-and-Watson package. It isn’t that he is so radically a different person or anything; but people are subtly different depending on the company they’re in, and this author reflected that well.
Of course, I also like this Watson because his instincts and insights prove vital to the case. He may not be portrayed as a deductive genius like Holmes, but he certainly is shown to contribute, vitally, to their partnership.
Oscar Wilde; romance; the canon stories SECO, NAVA, and BRUC; outsider perspectives
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by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books (October 2016)
336 p. ISBN 9780316267724
East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.
They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.
This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.
Another step-to-the-left pastiche, this one imagines if Holmes and Watson were young black men in inner city LA. I was curious how it would work, and I’m pleased to say that I couldn’t put the book down. Joe Ide created a truly interesting set of characters. There are subtle nods to canon throughout (my favourite: Harry!), but if someone unfamiliar with Holmesiana were to pick this up, they’d be able to follow along easily.
The story alternates between two timelines. The first is the main mystery, wherein a rap icon (along the lines of Biggie or Ice Cube) who has an album deadline coming up will no longer leave his house, due to a near-death experience with a gigantic houn- er, big dog. Though his entourage is interested in getting him into the studio, the rapper is more interested in staying alive, and so hires Isaiah to find out who is trying to kill him. The second timeline looks at how Isaiah became a detective, and how he met Dodson, our Watson in this tale. Ide does a phenomenal job here for weaving in canon references, while making the relationship between Isaiah and Dodson far more fraught than the relationship between Holmes and Watson ever was.
Both timelines are deeply compelling. The mystery is intriguing, although fairly surface level. Ide focuses more time on us meeting and getting to know all the characters, villains included, than he does in crafting an in-depth mystery. We know who the hitman is early on; the matter of who hired him is wrapped up in an afterward fashion. If you care more about complex mysteries in your Holmesian pastiche, this is certainly a drawback. There’s very little meat here for you to really dig into. However, the character depth makes up for it, in my mind. We get an internal view of the hitman, the rapper, all the members of his entourage, the rapper’s ex-wife… we get to understand everyone as individuals. Even if they’re sometimes distasteful individuals that we hope we never meet in real life.
The second timeline, however, was by far my favourite. I enjoyed seeing Isaiah travel from a somewhat naïve, sweet teenage boy into the world-weary, yet still fighting, man he grew up to be. The introduction of Dodson into his orbit, and just how Dodson impacted him and who he is, was excellent. It is easy to read parts of the second timeline and see, despite the distance of years, just how the two of them still have hooks in each other, even if they wish it were otherwise.
The style of writing is more noir and thriller than your traditional pastiche, an aspect that may disinterest some people. This is no classic or cozy mystery; there is a great deal of language, sex, and violence. The sex and violence are more peripheral, and not at all a focus of the story, but they are still there, which may make some people uncomfortable. However, I felt that those aspects added to the atmosphere of the story, and weren’t gratuitous. I don’t typically like noir, but again, I couldn’t put down this book. The heart of it was very much in keeping with Sherlock Holmes canon.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved how different it was from most reimaginings, while still remaining true to the core of who Holmes and Watson are. Ide clearly loves canon, even as he’s willing to play with it. I am already working on getting my hands on the sequel, which came out just a few months ago.
This is not the first pastiche to reimagine Holmes and Watson as young black men. Probably the most well-known of these is Watson and Holmes, a graphic novel series. Despite a similar opening premise, though, this book is radically different, in part because of their Watson.
Our Watson is a former drug-dealer, former gangbanger, present day entrepreneur. He isn’t a “former” because of any noble reasons—he survived a gang war and saw a new way to make money, and he took it. He’s a bit of a womanizer, and his relationship with Isaiah is… contentious, at best. Isaiah doesn’t really like him half of the time, yet they find themselves drawn together time and again.
Despite these external trappings, Dodson is very much a Watson. A womanizer, yes, but he cherishes the women he’s with and treats them well. A gangbanger he may have been, but he also loves to cook, a skill he was taught by one of his girlfriends. A former drug-dealer, but incredibly brave, and he basically saves Isaiah from himself on multiple occasions. He’s charming, and good with people. He often helps interpret Isaiah for his clients, since Isaiah has no patience for such things. He’s funny, and finds the humor in things, and is incredibly smart himself. And despite his tough exterior and loud bravado, he has a heart of… maybe not gold, but at least of slightly tarnished silver.
Dodson is a meaty character, incredibly complex in that he’s not likeable in one moment, and incredibly so in the next. I am also deeply in love with how the author decided to treat the “Watson always asks Holmes how he did things” issue that arises in more pastiches than one would care to admit; Dodson keeps asking questions to try and get a rise out of Isaiah, to annoy him. It’s a unique take, and it works well. It’s also a remarkably brotherly thing to do; Isaiah and Dodson may not be the best of friends, but they certainly have the brotherly part of the relationship down well.
This isn’t a Watson for everyone, I will freely admit it. But it’s a NEW Watson, and I ended up loving him far more than I thought I would. I admire the author’s courage to try something different with such a beloved character, and for pulling it off.
Noir; urban settings; LA; rap music; new interpretations on canon
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by Sherry Thomas
Berkley (September 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780425281413
Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.
Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.
In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?
This book is actually the second book in the series, the first being A Study in Scarlet Women. Before you attempt to read this book, I strongly recommend you read the first, both because it will give you a better sense of the world these characters are inhabiting, but also because key elements from the first book carry over into this one- the author is clearly building an overarching mystery, and you will be lost without firmly knowing the contents of the first.
The conceit of the book series is fairly simple, and has been seen and done before: Sherlock Holmes is a woman. In this case, her name is Charlotte, and she is the disgraced daughter of the Holmes family. She has created a fictional brother, Sherlock Holmes, who is a detective, while she is merely a helpful sister. The first book set up the series, and at times struggled between getting all the key characters in place and an interesting mystery. The ultimate result was a book where Charlotte didn’t actually DO much, beyond listen to people, and a mystery so convoluted I still can’t make much sense of it.
That being said, I enjoyed A Conspiracy in Belgravia far more, and am thankful to NetGalley for providing me an ARC. Now that Charlotte and her world is established, the author has more freedom to focus on the mystery plots and incremental character developments, and it works well. Though the mystery still has many, many elements to it- some connecting to the overarching mystery of the series, which naturally connects to Moriarty, while others connect more directly to Charlotte and her home life- I thought it was better handled, more balanced, and easier to follow. I was also thrilled to see Charlotte go out in the world and do things, including canne de combat and a bit of light housebreaking.
I am intrigued by the way the author is working to break apart the Sherlock Holmes Mythos. It’s becoming more common in various adaptations these days; one series that did it in a particularly excellent fashion is the 2013 Russian series. Rather than take the canon at its word about who Holmes is, both this book and the Russian series choose to pick it apart. In this book series, Charlotte Holmes loses none of the deductive brilliance of her canon counterpart; but instead of being athletic and prone to forgetting about food or drink, Charlotte is pudgy, a bit lazy, and adores her food- almost a Mycroft, but far more willing to go find answers. However, rather than leaving her that way, we get to see her grow and change and make strides to being the more familiar Holmes we know from canon.
I am also growing more and more fond of the secondary characters of the series. I’ll leave the Watsons for analysis down below, but there are a few other characters who return in this book. I disliked the presence of Lord Ingram in the first book, in part because he has no canon counterpart, and because I have never particularly enjoyed romances. While the tension between he and Charlotte remains in this book, I found myself enjoying him more, especially as he became less patronizing and more of an actual ally to Charlotte. Lord Bancroft was excellent, and while I remain disappointed that the Mycroft role didn’t go to Livia (Charlotte’s sister- more on her below), I am utterly charmed by him nonetheless. I hope that the author allows him to return in future books, even though his function in this book’s narrative is concluded. The Marbletons continue to intrigue, and Mrs. Burns stole the scenes she appeared in. Though she was certainly a one-off character, I cannot help but hope that Mrs. Watson will hire her. Inspector Treadles, however, was pointless in this book, and I’m not entirely sure why he was included, unless the developments in his household will become important later on.
Given that Holmes is a woman in this series, it would be almost impossible for it not to interact in some way with Victorian gender roles. It does, in some ways, but when Charlotte or the other women run into barriers, it often has as much to do with class as it does with their gender. Class is wielded like a weapon by all the characters in this series, in complex and fascinating ways. The issues of legitimacy and social freedoms abound, ultimately causing all of the unhappiness and trials that lead to the mysteries. None of this is a heavy stick, however; the author weaves these issues into the story in a very natural way.
While I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who prefers their pastiches as close to canon as possible, I would recommend it for anyone who likes those pastiches that go a little further astray. I am looking forward to seeing what Charlotte and her friends will encounter next, and to discover just how it all will come together in the end.
Just as the author has given Holmes some of the characteristics of Mycroft, our Watson figure is divided evenly among three different women. The first is, in fact, Mrs. Watson, an older woman who was once an actress. The second is Penelope, her niece, who is studying to be a doctor. The third is Livia, Charlotte’s sister, still trapped in the unhappy family home.
I. Love. These. Women. Though at times I wished for a more traditional (read: singular) Watson figure in the first book, especially since Mrs. Watson and Livia had little to do, the second book capitalizes on the fact that three different people are acting as a Watson figure and gives them tons of material to work with. All three play their part in solving the mystery and acting as a valuable source of companionship and information to Charlotte. Mrs. Watson (who also has a bit of Mrs. Hudson in her) cares deeply about Charlotte and is very protective of her, working to train her in self-defense, while also helping her hare off into her next, somewhat ill-advised, idea. Penelope helps get Charlotte in houses, utilizing her doctor-in-training role as leverage, and is clearly enamoured of the adventurous parts of the detective life. Livia, cloistered away, can really only talk to her disgraced sister via letter, but still provides vital information and also begins writing the first Sherlock Holmes story. None of these women are unintelligent; all of them are loyal to Charlotte. Though they each have their different strengths, they all contribute to solving the mysteries before them. What’s more, they are willing to run off and do dangerous work, either with glee or trepidation. When they encounter the less savoury parts of detective work, they never shy away. All three of them dig in their heels and confront it, head on.
I love a singular Watson, because I love to see a strong, deep, life-altering friendship. But despite my misgivings, I have come to appreciate Watson’s role spread across these different characters, because it means that this Holmes gets to have three Watsons, and really, what more could one ask for in life?
Victorian women protagonists; series long mysteries; family dramas; pastries
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by J.B. Djian (Author), Olivier Legrand (Author), David Etien (Illustrator)
Insight Comics (May 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608878789
Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, The Baker Street Four provides an inside look behind the infamous Baker Street Irregulars.
Billy, Charlie, and Tom are inseparable, and for good reason. Filled with con men and scoundrels, London’s East End is not easily survived alone. Fortunately, the three friends—and their faithful feline companion—can count on the protection of Sherlock Holmes, for whom they sometimes act as spies.
When Tom’s girlfriend is kidnapped, the Baker Street Irregulars must put their budding sleuthing skills to use. Then, when a Russian immigrant is framed for a Jack the Ripper–inspired crime, our heroes set out to discover the truth and uncover a conspiracy that may go deeper than they ever imagined. Armed with only their quick wit and street smarts, the Baker Street Irregulars must work together to solve mysteries in the nick of time. Make way for the youngest detective team of the Victorian era!
Hailed by critics and audiences, The Baker Street Four has received numerous awards and was featured at Angoulême in 2012. Insight Editions is proud to continue to bring this exciting story to English audiences worldwide.
I first read this series in its original French a couple of years ago. Given how atrocious my French is, you know it had to be good for me to stick with it for six books worth. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that it was being released in English! I was very lucky to receive an ARC from NetGalley of this book so I could enjoy it without wrestling with the language.
The Baker Street Four is a comic book series about the Baker Street Irregulars. This first book covers two of the French volumes, making it nicely weighty. Though a comic book, and about the Baker Street Irregulars, this is not necessarily a book that would suit children. The authors do not shy away from the realities of being poor in Victorian England. The first story involves a young girl being forced into sex work at an upscale brothel. The second story involves Russian immigrants in London and the Tsar’s secret police. The Baker Street Irregulars are frequently hungry, have unsavory contacts, and their own secrets to hide.
All that being said, it’s an excellent book. In some ways, it follows a standard format for any story involving the Baker Street Irregulars: there is the leader figure who wants to emulate Holmes (in this case, Billy), there is a non-English member (Black Tom, who is Irish), there is the more empathetic child (Charlie), and there is an animal sidekick, who we admittedly don’t meet until the end of the first story.
Where the story differs is first in its relative darkness, but also in that, while the Irregulars work well together, they don’t always get along and have very different ideas about their role with the Irregulars. Billy is a devoted detective; Tom gave up being a very talented thief; Charlie has their own motivations. There are frequent conflicts between them, sometimes resolved through talking it out, and sometimes solved by yelling and kicking at each other. It creates an interesting dynamic, one that speaks more towards a need for mutual survival rather than friendship. It adds an extra level of tension through the story that often doesn’t exist in Baker Street Irregular stories.
The stories themselves are good, though if you’re looking for complicated mysteries, this wouldn’t work for you. They’re very workmanlike in some ways. The first story is the stronger of the two, as it gives us a much stronger sense of the characters and the world they inhabit. The second story about the Russian exiles is still good, but there is less detective-work happening.
What truly sets this book apart, though, is the art. The art for this series is absolutely lush, with not a detail spared. Backgrounds are fully drawn out, so crowd scenes and fight scenes become a feast for the eyes. Facial expressions are done beautifully, so you can actually decipher what a character is thinking without the narrative spelling it out. The clothes have folds and wrinkles that move as the characters move from panel to panel. Simply put, no shortcuts were ever taken, and it pays off by creating a truly gorgeous book.
I highly recommend picking up this volume. The next volume will come out on August 8th, and the third volume on October 10th, and I can tell you that those stories are even stronger than these first two. I am very much looking forward to picking them up and reading them without regretting all the time I neglected my French homework!
As in any Baker Street Irregulars story, Watson and Holmes function more in the background, and don’t have much focus on them. However, this is a loveable, wonderful Watson. First of all, let’s take a look at him. Is this not a person who definitely knew women on three continents?:
(Photo from the French accompanying volume, Le monde de quatre de Baker Street.)
On the rare occasions he is on the page, though, his personality shines through, with Holmes calling him an incorrigible romantic and an incurable optimist at one point. He helps out a young woman he doesn’t know, and he seems very capable and comfortable around the children themselves. He is drawn as warm and open. I love this Watson, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in future volumes.
(There’s also the cat, but I’ll leave that for you to read yourself.)
Graphic novels; art; darker and sadder depictions of Victorian England
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by Mattias Bostrom
Mysterious Press (August 2017)
544 p. ISBN 9780802126603
Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique literary character who has remained popular for over a century and is appreciated more than ever today. But what made this fictional character, dreamed up by a small-town English doctor in the 1880s, into such a lasting success, despite the author’s own attempt to escape his invention?
In From Holmes to Sherlock, Swedish author and Sherlock Holmes expert Mattias Boström recreates the full story behind the legend for the first time. From a young Arthur Conan Doyle sitting in a Scottish lecture hall taking notes on his medical professor’s powers of observation to the pair of modern-day fans who brainstormed the idea behind the TV sensation Sherlock, from the publishing world’s first literary agent to the Georgian princess who showed up at the Conan Doyle estate and altered a legacy, the narrative follows the men and women who have created and perpetuated the myth. It includes tales of unexpected fortune, accidental romance, and inheritances gone awry, and tells of the actors, writers, readers, and other players who have transformed Sherlock Holmes from the gentleman amateur of the Victorian era to the odd genius of today. Told in fast-paced, novelistic prose, From Holmes to Sherlock is a singular celebration of the most famous detective in the world—a must-read for newcomers and experts alike.
Reviewing a nonfiction book is difficult for me, since there are no characters to review, just a series of facts and how they’re presented. Wonderfully, however, Mattias Bostrom chose to write his history of Holmes and the people who shaped him in an engaging, story-like manner, making this not just an interesting read, but a fun one.
The book is divided into different sections, all of which cover a range of dates (there is no table of contents in my ARC, alas). We begin, most naturally, with Arthur Conan Doyle and the circumstances that led him to create Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. From there, the text makes a number of side trips into other people, such as publishers and editors, journalists and fellow writers. At first I thought the stories and information about these people were added as colour to the text, but as we got further into the book I realized that the little asides about all of these different people had a point, and that they all influenced ACD or how Holmes and Watson would go on to become cultural icons. It was a risky move- I could see some readers, perhaps not as devoted to Holmesian or Watsonian interests but more general readers, getting frustrated with the asides and leaving off before they saw the fruition. But it’s a risk that pays off; Bostrom’s text is far more interesting for getting to meet some of our key players before they really enter the scene.
While the first two sections of the book are truly devoted just to ACD, in section three (1897-1930) we begin to see the impact that the stories have made and how Holmes begins to leave the hands of his creator and become the creation of a whole confluence of cultural factors. It is in this section that we meet William Gillette and see the changes he wrought upon the character, as well as see some of the early films- and all the issues of copyright that immediately come up.
Though the book focuses on the ways that Holmes has been shaped by so many different people, I would say that the issue of copyright- who owns Holmes?- is the most important theme throughout the story. I will confess it up front: I am someone who, while interested in a vague way in the history of Holmesiana, has never studied or memorized it in the way that so many Holmesians have. So this book, for me, did an excellent job of keeping my interest even while explaining why the issue of copyright is so complicated when it comes to Sherlock Holmes. We get to see the way ownership was handed over so easily in the Edwardian era to various film companies, often at the same time, which created problems for later films and television adaptations, which led to fights among the Conan Doyle estate, both among themselves and with outside companies. Bostrom’s narrative is extremely compelling in this regard, and even though I knew the eventual outcome, I found myself tense as all the different factions fought amongst themselves for well over eighty years.
As someone who adores adaptations, it was incredibly interesting to see how familiar faces came onto the stage. Edith Meiser, Frederic Dorr Steele (who made me cry at my desk at work), Nigel Bruce (who also made me cry), Evelyn Herzog (her story made me ugly cry at my desk… look, I got emotional while reading this book, it was that good), Peter Cushing, Ronald Howard, Robert Stephens… there were so many figures dear to me in general that appeared in this book. If I have one fault for this book, it’s that I wish it dug in deeper with the different films and television shows. That wasn’t the purpose of this book, so that isn’t a slight on the author, but rather a compliment: this book was so engaging that I wanted him to write another 544 pages just on the production histories of every Holmesian film and television show ever.
I will warn readers now, however, that if you are fans of Conan Doyle’s children, you might want to brace yourself. While Denis and Adrian are treated with fondness, the author doesn’t shy away from their less admirable characteristics, especially when it came to managing their father’s estate. I walked away from this book deeply grateful that we have any additional Holmes and Watson things at all, given the way they handled things.
I thought this was a fascinating book. I received an ARC from Edelweiss, and though excited, was also a bit apprehensive. As I stated, my interests in Holmesiana lie elsewhere, and so I was concerned that I would be a poor audience for this book. Rather, it captured my attention and aroused my curiosity. After finishing this excellent volume, I wound up doing some more research on my own.
As this is a nonfiction book that specifically focuses on what influenced the ongoing cultural creation of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the people who were influenced by him, it is perhaps not surprising that there isn’t much discussion about Watson. Though we get to peak behind the curtain and see some of the evolution of film and television shows, they largely focus on the creators of those adaptations as well as the figures who portrayed Holmes. This is not exclusive; Nigel Bruce is talked about a bit, for instance. But by and large, Watson is a footnote in this book.
Thankfully, the author does give us one excellent point about Watson. Bostrom proposes that ACD’s genius was not in creating Holmes, but in creating Watson, and giving us an organic, clever way to meet Holmes and join in the stories. It is an interesting point, and given the respect the author extends Watson, I would love to see him do a history of Watson and his evolution, which is many ways is far more intriguing than the evolution of Holmes.
Histories; adaptations and how they came about; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family
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by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (March 2017)
320 p. ISBN 9781683310969
Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop–located at 222 Baker Street–specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.
The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman’s suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it’s a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany.
What a FUN book! This is what I call a step-to-the-left pastiche, in that the characters aren’t named Holmes and Watson, though they emulate aspects and fulfill the roles of the original characters. Gemma is our Holmes and Jayne is our Watson. They own a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and tea shop, which is a very cute idea, and it just becomes more fun from there.
First of all, I want everyone to know this up front: there is some very gentle ribbing at folks like us. Gemma doesn’t quite understand the Sherlock Holmes obsession, and sometimes looks at her customers (especially her more particular clientele!) with bafflement. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s very loving, as the author is clearly laughing at herself too. Gemma also defends her customers later on in the book. I wanted to state that up front, in case that’s a deal breaker for you, or if you bounce off the first encounter of the attitude.
Gemma is a great main character. She’s not always very self-aware, even if she’s very observant, which allows us to make our own decisions about who she is. I found her to be snobby, clever, brash and stubborn, and she clearly loves her friends and her community, even if she’s occasionally frustrated by them. Her friendship with Jayne was my favourite part of this book by far, though anyone who enjoys romances might also like her interactions with the detective, Ryan, and the book collector, Grant.
The mystery is actually fairly light, despite the bodies hitting the ground. If you are someone who prefers twisty, complicated mysteries, this may not be for you, but anyone who just wants the escapism of a straightforward mystery will find this enjoyable. I also find it delightful that, despite the murders happening, the main mystery actually concerns a copy of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual.
One of the strongest parts of this book was the community that Delany depicted. In the first book of the series, it’s tempting to do a lot of set up and exposition about just who everyone is, but instead the author just drops us into the small town of West London and lets us get to know how everyone knows each other, the friendships and the rivalries and the histories, in a more organic fashion. This is an author who excels at show-don’t-tell when it comes to the people. If she sets us up by telling us that someone behaves in a particular way, we also get the opportunity to see it and draw our own conclusions from it. I thought it was an excellent depiction of a small town community.
I wasn’t originally intending to read this book when I saw it show up in the publishing lists, but the author contacted the Society to ask if she could send someone the book to review. I’m very glad she reached out to us, as this was a book I enjoyed immensely. I will definitely be looking for the second book in the series when it comes out in September!
As already mentioned, this is a step-to-the-left pastiche, and as such, we don’t have a character named Watson. The Watson role is instead fulfilled by Jayne Wilson, who is absolutely delightful.
Jayne owns the teashop connected to the Sherlock Holmes bookstore. She’s a serious businesswoman, who cares deeply about how the business runs, and she’s good at it, too. She is, in fact, much better at running a business than Gemma is, and frequently has to step up to handle the things that Gemma forgot about. I personally appreciated the fact that it was Jayne who really had a handle on the business side of things, and it wasn’t just thrown in there for detail. The fact that Jayne runs her business is an important part of who she is, rather than fluffy characterization.
Despite the fact that she’s serious about running her business, Jayne also clearly enjoys a good adventure, as she’s willing to step up and help Gemma with her illicit investigation when asked. She is, at times, reluctant—Jayne does not enjoy finding bodies—but she is an excellent friend and wants to help. She’s got a long way to go before she’s fully invested in being a partner to Gemma, and I’m hoping that the author will let her grow in this capacity in future books, but it was a wonderful start.
For people who are interested in Watson’s romantic relationships, they’ll be thrilled to see a version of it replicated in Jayne’s dating life. Jayne, with her great business sense and willingness to adventure, doesn’t always have the best taste in men. We meet one boyfriend in this book, and he’s a trip.
Most importantly, the friendship between Gemma and Jayne is strong and based in mutual respect. There is a great deal of affection and kindness between the two of them, and it will absolutely remind you of the original Holmes and Watson.
Cozy mysteries; romances; bookshops; small town communities
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by Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegan Books (February 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780062398949
In the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.
Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.
So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.
As noted in the publisher’s summary, this is the second book in the series, the first being A Study in Charlotte. I read the first book in the series shortly after it came out, and loved the worldbuilding of it all. The premise is that Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are the latest Holmes and Watson, descended from the original Holmes and Watson.
That’s right- this is a modern story in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson DID exist. Rather than the headscratching of “how did the modern detective novel come about without the influence of the original canon” or, alternatively, “why is no on remarking on the fact that they have the same names as the fictional detectives and are solving crimes together?” which accompanies most modern adaptations, this takes the logical presumption that The Game is true: they were real people, and they had families. It’s a fantastic premise, and I adored the first book, but there were certainly elements that I wasn’t as fond of, which continue in this book, to my dismay. (Spoilers: there is a poorly handled rape plot line in both books; consider this a warning for those who need it.)
I would strongly recommend that you read the first book before you attempt The Last of August. This book will make very little sense without it, and you will be completely lost. Even though I did read the first book, I regretted not rereading it before diving into this one, as there were moments where I was a bit lost nonetheless.
The second book begins with two family trees, those of Holmes and Moriarty (because if Holmes and Watson were both real people with families, it stands to reason that Moriarty was as well!). I lament the lack of Watson family tree, but the trees of Holmes and Moriarty will delight any reader, with their annotations by Charlotte. I long for the stories of each family member, who seem fascinating and complex all on their own.
Meeting Charlotte’s family is probably my favorite part of this book. Though we met her brother, Milo, in the first book, here we get to meet her mother and father, who are mysterious and odd in their own right. I am especially intrigued by her mother, and I hope we see more of her in the third book. We also finally- finally!- meet her Uncle Leander, the Holmes to Jamie’s father’s Watson. Leander is absolutely charming, a nice contrast to the prickly Charlotte and her distant parents. Leander is an easy character to love, and it is Charlotte’s adoration of her uncle that drives the mystery plot.
The mystery is complex, perhaps too much so. Much of the time I had to simply sit back and let the story go where it wanted to go, without attempting to solve the case along with our young detectives. Charlotte and Jamie go to Berlin in order to save Leander, and in doing so, we meet much of the Moriarty family. I am, happily, just as intrigued by the Moriarty family as I am by the Watson and Holmes families; the parallels between Holmes and Moriarty (the originals) have often been noted, but this novel basks in them, bringing them to the forefront. The plot is more spy thriller than mystery, but it was enjoyable, and very fun to watch both Charlotte and Jamie assume different personas in their attempts to unravel what has happened to Leander.
We also get to meet August Moriarty, a source of Charlotte’s angsty backstory. This is hardly a spoiler, given the title of the book. As this is a YA book, it is unsurprising that a bit of a love triangle is set up between August, Jamie, and Charlotte. Delightfully, August wants no part of this love triangle, a refreshing twist from the usual YA plot. I loved the moments where August and Jamie were able to speak with each alone, without Charlotte creating an emotional distortion field around Jamie’s POV- the pool scene, in particular, is one of my favorite scenes in the entire book.
Though I didn’t like the second book as much as I enjoyed the first, it was still a strong entry into the series. I’m very much looking forward to the third book, and I love the possibilities that are opened by the world the author created.
Jamie Watson is hotheaded, wears his heart on his sleeve, and cares too much about everyone around him. In short, he is what one might expect from a young, teenage Watson. Charlotte owes much of her characterization to the BBC version of Holmes, but I would say Jamie draws from a number of different portrayals of Watson, including Nigel Bruce, H. Marion Crawford, and of course, ACD Watson.
Though he is clearly no deductive genius, Jamie is still an intelligent boy. He goes off on his own at a few points to try and find clues and evidence on the case they’re working on, and is moderately successful (this is no slam on Jamie; the other characters, too, are moderately successful in their individual attempts). He is clearly a bit of a dreamer, having his own ideas on what a partnership between a Holmes and a Watson should look like. He is also the brawns of the two, acting almost as Charlotte’s bodyguard at times, although Charlotte is capable to taking care of herself.
Jamie is, however, still very young, and exhibits the sort of flaws you might expect from a teenage boy. While he clearly cares deeply for Charlotte, much of his adoration comes across as self-centered; it may be hard for some readers to get through, especially given we spend much of this book in his POV. He can also be selfish, and jealous without cause. The relationship between he and Charlotte can be, for an adult reader, somewhat troubling because of some of these aspects of his personality.
I like Jamie quite a bit, and it’s fascinating to see what a very young, modern Watson might look like. A Watson without the various structures in his life to give him discipline and focus, and without time in general to give him experience, is a very unmolded Watson, but we can certainly see in Jamie how one could get from point A to point B. It will be interesting to see how he continues to grow in book three.
YA romance; BBC Sherlock; James Bond
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by Roger Langridge and Andy Hirsch
kaBoom! (January 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608869282
The Baker Street Peculiars is a supernatural twist on the beloved world of Sherlock Holmes.
When a giant lion statue in Trafalgar Square comes to life and wreaks havoc on 1930s London, it seems like the perfect case for the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. With an overwhelmed caseload, however, Holmes recruits the help of three precocious young detectives-in-training (and one cunning golden retriever) to solve the mystery. Molly, Rajani, Humphrey, and Wellington (the dog) will have to work together and use all their wits if they are to uncover the truth behind the living statues and save London. But on the legendary Baker Street, nothing is as it seems and their biggest mystery might be the real identity of the famous detective who brought them together.
Written by Eisner Award winner Roger Langridge (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Abigail and the Snowman) and illustrated by Andy Hirsch (Adventure Time, Regular Show), The Baker Street Peculiars is a heartfelt and supernatural twist on the beloved world of Sherlock Holmes.
I love stories that center around the Baker Street Irregulars. I especially love them when they come in comic book form. I have an entire shelf devoted just to such books, and I’m very pleased to be able to add this one, especially as it has a fairly new, fresh take on the Irregulars mythos. Despite my personal disinterest in most Holmesian stories that incorporate supernatural elements, I found this one utterly charming.
The story is fairly straightforward. Statues are coming to life all around London, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Molly, Humphrey, and Rajani (as well as dog Wellington) are drafted by Sherlock Holmes to look into it, as Holmes is busy with several other cases and doesn’t quite believe the tales of walking statues. Using their very different backgrounds, the children (not quite Irregulars in the traditional sense) piece together the clues, find the culprit, and save the day. It’s a common formula, found in many different Irregulars stories, but Baker Street Peculiars manages to find its own unique twist on the formula.
One of the first things that makes this Irregulars story stand out is that, rather than take place in the Victorian era (and often right around the Hiatus), this takes place during the 1930s. There are vehicles on the streets, electricity instead of gaslight, and slightly different social norms. It gives the comic a different look, brighter and more colorful, helping it stand out from its predecessors.
Then there are the main characters. While their personalities are largely told in broad strokes, without a great deal of depth, each of them brings their own set of talents and strengths, as well as unhappiness and baggage, to the investigation. Molly steps forward as the leader, although her Jewish grandfather would rather she stay home and work towards becoming good wife material; she desperately wants to become a detective in her own right. Rajani is a foundling, raised by a criminal that she viewed as a father, who ultimately died and left her to fend for herself; she is the most reluctant of our investigators. Humphrey is the youngest son of a wealthy family, neglected and ignored, sent to a boarding school with a dog valet; Humphrey is naïve and well-intentioned. They end up working well as a team, with some friction because of their very different backgrounds, in a way that is believable and engaging.
Rather than taking itself too seriously, the book is more comic than dramatic, with cartoonish reactions, villains, and physics. Despite the comedy, though, it still manages to be touching and sweet at places in the story (watching Molly and her grandfather reconcile their different ideas on what her life should be; Humphrey and Rajani finding a point of connection).
The art, as mentioned earlier, features bright colors and bold lines. The illustrations are very simple in many ways, but still satisfying. The backgrounds are largely just shaded in, without a great deal of detail, while the characters receive most of the attention. There are, however, a number of delightful Easter eggs hidden in the art, references to the Canon that made me guffaw. Pay particular attention to the first big two-page illustration.
Overall, I thought this comic was an incredibly fun read. I haven’t yet been able to find out if it will get another run, but I do hope it will, as the ending lends itself to further adventures.
As a Watsonian, I try very hard to focus my attention on books that feature Watson or have him showcased in a particular way. Occasionally, though, there are books that I very much want to review that lack a Watson entirely. This is, unfortunately, one such book. Not only is there no Watson, there isn’t even a Watson figure. The end of the book hints that a reporter character may end up working with Holmes, fulfilling a similar role to the classic Watson. However, that happens in the last two pages of the book, as is hardly a major feature of the plot.
Though there is no Watson, which is disappointing, it was still a fun little book.
Scooby Doo (particularly A Pup Named Scooby Doo); comic books; parodies; children protagonists
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[The recent review of The Great Shelby Holmes posted by Elise Elliot (JHWS “Lucy”) piqued Chips’s interest. He read the book and shares his thoughts here. -Selena Buttons]
I love to read books that capture my attention and bring me into the book’s world. This book did that. I have friends who believe my world is the world of nine-year-old Shelby Holmes and her 11-year-old companion-to-be, John Watson. And they are right.
I was at the point of wanting a story to remember in, and this is one. My growing up years were not in New York. I come from a totally different background.
This book drew me in just like in the adult Canon. I became 11 year old John Watson and had a great time. I experienced how to accept and be a friend.
The mystery does resemble one from the Canon and is done well. I felt refreshed and ready to read the next one that I hope will follow.
So, to all 11-year-olds and 9-year-olds, you will like this story. Be prepared to explain it to all the adults who ask you to read this story to them. I hope you find the ones who are half Men and Women and still half Boys and Girls. The rest do not count.
by Tim Symonds
MXPublishing (November 2016)
358p. ISBN 9781787050358
It’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it. But are the assassins targeting the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his imperious aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? The murder of either could spark a civil war. The fate of China and the interests of Britain’s vast Empire in the Orient could be at stake. Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City.
Unlike several of the reviews I’ve written for the Society so far, this book (which was sent to me by the author, Tim Symonds) features a Holmesian story much like the ones in the Canon. Watson is the narrator, Holmes and his case are the focus, and it takes place in the era that the Canon was originally set. This will, I am sure, make a number of Society members very happy.
The story, as noted in the publisher’s summary, takes place in 1906 and is firmly set during the Retirement Era. Holmes is away in Sussex with his bees, while Watson tends to his practice. It becomes clear from the get go that Watson is rather bored without the stimulation of his friend’s cases. It is hardly surprising, then, that when approached by General Yuan for his help in developing a company of Chinese army medics, he leaps at the chance.
The book is steeped in historical detail which many readers will find incredibly rich. The author meticulously notes the ephemera of the Edwardian era, such as ads and brands and the popular fashions of the time. It does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re there, standing next to Watson. When the narrative moves to China, the historical details do not end, and you’ll find yourself discovering a plethora of fascinating information.
The mystery is complex and knotty, and will satisfy anyone who has a fondness for royal dramas. It was difficult to work out in advance, as no one is telling the full truth. It also moves incredibly swiftly, moving from action to action to action, and it will certainly keep you engaged.
The Chinese characters, while occasionally steeped in unfortunate stereotypes both historic and modern, were as complex as the plot itself. The Empress Dowager and the Emperor are, in particular, fully examined and have a plethora of emotions and motivations. The Empress Dowager in particular was incredibly complicated character to understand, which is not necessarily surprising, given her role in history and the diversity of opinion on her rule. Because the book primarily takes place in China, there are very few Canon characters who appear, but Mycroft shows off his role as The British Government as well, in a way that will certainly make Mycroft fans grin.
Canon was referenced throughout, and one can tell that Watson feels a bit nostalgic for the Good Ol’ Days, but it also serves to show just how deep the history between Holmes and Watson runs. There is an easy camaraderie between the two that demonstrates the close friendship, and how quickly they can fall into old routines and patterns, despite the physical distance between them most of the time.
For anyone who likes a more traditional Holmesian romp, with an emphasis on investigation and friendship, this will certainly appeal!
Watson is very much the central character in this story. Even though it was Holmes that ultimately solves the mystery, it is Watson who drives the action and provides all the relevant clues. As it is said in Canon, he is a conductor of light.
Delightfully, this story begins with Watson, not Holmes, being approached by a Chinese general who wants his help. The General wants him to help build a company of medics in the Chinese military. Although this explanation deflates a little bit later on, Watson provides a great deal of information and suggestions to the General, taking his job very seriously.
Watson also serves as a confidant to a number of people. They tell him their problems with ease, as well as their secrets. It is this quality of Watson, his unobtrusiveness, concern, and compassion, that provide him with so much information necessary for Holmes to solve the mystery.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the first-person narrative is perhaps a little distant, and so we don’t get to know a great deal of how Watson feels about the things he’s hearing and experiencing. I would have loved to know more about his internal life throughout this book. But he is a solid Watson, and I look forward to seeing this author’s other works.
Court intrigues; travelogues; Shakespeare; the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films
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by Michelle Birkby
Pan Books (February 2017)
368 p. ISBN 9781509809738
As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London …When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors? Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women’s investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent’s Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.
I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book, having thoroughly enjoyed its predecessor, The House at Baker Street. Knowing that sequels can occasionally be a cause of disappointment, I tempered my expectations before I cracked open the spine (or, rather, digital copy- the hardcopy is not readily available in the US yet, and so while awaiting the arrival of my hardcopy, I went ahead and bought a second copy on my Nook) and settled in to find out what Mary Watson and Mrs. Hudson were up to now.
I needn’t have worried. The Women of Baker Street is an excellent follow-up and, in some ways, is better than the first in the series.
The book wastes no time in getting us into the mystery. With an incredibly creepy and ominous opening that sets the stage for what is to come, we are soon hurried through the circumstances of Mrs. Hudson’s illness. Perhaps too hurried- I myself would have enjoyed some fussing over Mrs. Hudson by Watson and Holmes- but having read the whole book now, I can see why the author didn’t linger much over her actual moment of collapse.
Soon we are introduced to a truly eclectic and strange group of women who share the ward with Mrs. Hudson while she recuperates. In the first book there were some truly fine original characters, but it largely focused on fleshing out the Canon characters. Here, though, we meet eight new women in quick succession. I worried I would have trouble keeping them all straight, and for perhaps a page or two I did. But every woman has her own personality and her own mystery, so they soon became their own people and any confusion dried up quickly. In fact, I found myself wanting to learn the full story about every single woman, and was captivated by their mysteries.
If secrets was the theme of the first book, haunting is the theme of this one. Every single person in the book, including Mrs. Hudson and Holmes, is haunted by the spectral presence of their past. It is these hauntings that drive the mysteries encountered. At times the hauntings are simply heartbreaking; in other cases, dark and ominous. Mrs. Hudson’s haunting was, I thought, the most effective, in part because she is our POV character, but also because the actions she took in the previous book took a toll on her. Watching her struggle with the conclusion of the previous book is heart-wrenching, but also satisfying. It is an easy thing to make a character accept their actions and move on; it is quite another to have a character grapple with them and force themselves to reexamine what they’ve done. I loved watching Mrs. Hudson struggle, and particularly loved the help she received along the way, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.
The theme of haunting is present in the overall atmosphere of the book as well. It really was quite creepy at times, with certain scenes driving me to set down the book for a moment so I could take a breath. There are moments of terror for the characters, and the writing was done so well that I found myself caught up in it all.
While the first book meandered occasionally, with flashbacks to Mrs. Hudson’s life before Baker Street, or providing little glimpses into shared histories and moments, this book is more firmly a mystery novel. And it is an excellent mystery, incredibly twisty, with multiple suspects and a horrifying conclusion. I was very much impressed in how the two separate mysteries were handled by the author; both were given roughly the same amount of focus, but at no point did I feel lost or like something was missing. When the mysteries wove together, it was incredibly organic, with everything clicking into place naturally. As a warning, it is also a very dark story, so if you prefer lighter mysteries, this may not be something you enjoy. I, however, loved it.
With this book being more of an actual mystery novel, it is tempting to read it before the first one, which has elements of a character study. However, I would advise that this isn’t a standalone book. You will likely find yourself lost if you don’t read the first in the series, because while Women of Baker Street has a much more straightforward narrative, it also very much references and relies on threads that were set up in The House at Baker Street.
Once you finish this book, I fully anticipate you will be eager for the next. Not to worry- I have already pestered the author on twitter, and she believes it should be out in early 2018.
Much as in the first book of the series, this book provides us with two Watsons to examine, John Watson and Mary Watson.
It is Watson who, in some ways, helps set the stage for the case, for it is Watson who uses his connections to get Mrs. Hudson into the private ward. He appears primarily as a doctor, stopping in to check on Mrs. Hudson, but we also discover that he’s assisting a young woman nurse in her studies to become a doctor, and is also helping Mary learn about anatomy and physiology. He is an incredibly supportive husband to Mary, and I truly adore the ongoing depictions of their life together. The hints we get in Canon about their relationship are brought more into the open, and they’re wonderful to behold.
Mary herself is much the spitfire we met in the first book, though she is clearly growing. She has enlisted her husband to teach her more about the body so she can approach cases with more information, and though she still has a reckless streak, she’s more willing to listen when Mrs. Hudson tells her to slow down. Mary is so passionate and brave, it’s impossible not to love her, and it’s easy to see why she and John Watson are such a perfect match. Interestingly, she becomes quite obsessed with about her own case, the mystery of the missing street boys, in such a way that makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder if there isn’t something else going on with Mary…
The Watsons in this book will not disappoint, though if you are strictly a John Watson fan, you may wish he had more time on the page. But as this book is about Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson, it is hardly surprising that he takes a backstage role.
Hospital dramas; tragedies; psychological horror; relationships between women
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by Lyndsay Faye
Mysterious Press (March 2017)
388 p. ISBN 9780802125927
Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.
Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.
Having been a fan of Faye’s work since she published Dust and Shadow, I expected to enjoy this book, and was thrilled to receive an ARC from NetGalley. What I did not expect was just how MUCH I enjoyed the book. Faye has a grasp of Watson and Holmes’ partnership that few authors manage to bring to life on the page in quite the same way. Here we see playful teasing, uproarious arguments, protectiveness and fondness, and a way of interacting that can only come about from decades of knowing each other.
The book is divided into four sections: Before Baker Street, in which Holmes or Watson tell a story to one another about a case they had before they met; The Early Years, which all take place before the Hiatus; The Return, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Hiatus; and The Later Years, which cover the years leading up to Holmes’ retirement.
Before Baker Street will bring to mind Gloria Scott and Musgrave Ritual. Even though either Holmes or Watson is absent from the mystery, however, they are very present within the story itself, either interjecting questions or asides, commenting on the action, or needing to take a break in order to adjust a blanket or eat some food. If one looks at Gloria Scott or Musgrave Ritual and misses Watson, then that shouldn’t be a concern here. He also presents his own case to Holmes, in a delightful turn of events.
The Early Years gives us four cases in which we explore the tentative beginnings to the friendship between Watson and Holmes. Faye is very aware that these stories take place before they were truly comrades-in-arms the way we think of them, and so she shows the gradual blossoming of their friendship as we go through. We are shown here vulnerable and deeply compassionate sides to Holmes, while Watson’s pawky humor comes through quite clearly, as well as his bravery and willingness to pursue justice. My favourite story in the entire collection, the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, is in this section. This story takes place during HOUN, while Holmes is still in London, and is drawn entirely from Holmes’ journal entries… in which he rambles about Watson, rants about Watson, and worries about Watson. If you’ve ever wondered just how Holmes feels about Watson, or worried that he didn’t value the friendship, this story will put such fears to rest. It is a gem.
The Return, with most stories all taking place immediately after EMPT, focuses on the consequences of Holmes’ actions, and is possibly the bleakest of the four sections. The first story in the group is heart wrenching, with Mary Watson having just died and Watson not knowing what to do anymore. In the other stories, Holmes and Watson have to work through the emotional quandaries that arose from the Hiatus and, in The Willow Basket, we get to see just what Lestrade’s take on the whole thing is. Despite this being perhaps the saddest section, it is still immensely satisfying, and really gives weight to the Hiatus as a whole.
The Later Years feature your classic pastiches, with the focus truly being on the cases themselves. At this point, Holmes and Watson have largely sorted out any rocky patches in their friendship, and these are some of the years Watson claimed Holmes was at the height of his powers in Canon; the mysteries are, suitably, excellent.
Most of the stories in this collection feature an A plot, which focuses on the mysteries at hand, and a B plot, examining a facet of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. If the mysteries are at times predictable, it is the B plots that make this book a standout. It is an amazing collection, and you will want to have it on your shelf.
The Watson that appears here is everything a good Watson should be: he’s loyal, he’s clever, he’s an excellent doctor, he’s brave and resolute, he’s funny, and he’s protective. The stories are told in a classic pastiche style, very reminiscent of Canon, but we are lucky here in that Watson isn’t edited out as much. He doesn’t come back into the story just to ask a question so that Holmes will explain something; instead, he is as much a part of the process of detective work as Holmes himself. His medical experience is featured heavily in these stories, in particular as Holmes’ doctor. Two stories, Colonel Warburton’s Madness and An Empty House feature Watson alone, with very little Holmes, and so we get experience a slightly difference view on him, unrelated to case work.
Perhaps the two best stories, however, for showcasing our Watson are the two stories that are drawn from Holmes’ notes. These are not done in the style of Lion’s Mane or Blanched Soldier, with Holmes attempting to write his own story. Instead, these are unfiltered, raw Holmes, straight from his journals, and so the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma and The Diadem Club Affair show us exactly how Holmes sees his friend, and, more importantly, gives us an unedited view on what Watson is truly like, without his authorial hand adjusting things. Watson is steadfast and gentle, brave and bullheaded, sarcastic and intelligent. It’s a brilliant portrayal, and immensely satisfying for a Watsonian.
Bert Coules radio dramas; friendship stories; the tin box mysteries with new plots; classic pastiche collections
by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press (February 2017)
240 p. ISBN 9781517900861
Dogged by depression, doubt, and—as a trip to the Mayo Clinic has revealed—emphysema, 66-year-old Sherlock Holmes is preparing to return to England when he receives a shock: a note slipped under his hotel room door, from a vicious murderer he’d nearly captured in Munich in 1892. The murderer, known as the Monster of Munich, announces that he has relocated to Eisendorf, a tiny village near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
If Holmes is not what he once was, the same can be said for Eisendorf: once a thriving community founded by German idealists but now a dying town with only forty residents—two of whom have, indeed, died recently under highly mysterious circumstances. Replete with all the gothic richness of Larry Millett’s earlier Holmes novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma links events in 1892 Germany with those in small-town Minnesota in 1920 in a double mystery that tests the aging detective’s mettle—and the reader’s nerve—as never before.
Guided by Eisendorf’s peculiar archivist and taunted by the Monster, Holmes finds himself drawn into the town’s dark history of violence and secrecy, and into the strange tunnels that underscore the old flour mill where answers, and grievous danger, lie in wait. No longer the cool, flawless logician of times past, Holmes must nonetheless match wits with a fiendish opponent who taunts him right up to a final, explosive confrontation.
Taking place during the Retirement Years, even past World War I, Eisendorf Enigma is a fun, fast-paced mystery. I was very excited when NetGalley sent me an ARC of Millett’s latest Sherlock Holmes novel- growing up, his novels were some of the first pastiches I encountered- and I’m deeply grateful to them for the opportunity to read this book in advance and comment on it.
The story begins quickly, almost abruptly, with the reader being introduced to several things at once, including Holmes’ illness and his history in Munich, before we find ourselves in Eisendorf itself, meeting our cast of suspects. Eisendorf is a miniscule German village in Minnesota, and it’s layered in secrets. It is fascinating to see Holmes attempt to tease out information from people when literally everyone he meets lies to him or misdirects him, and the only records he can consult are written by the same people who are lying to him. Although the book starts very quickly, it soon adjusts to a slower, more measured pace that absolutely suits the very Southern Gothic atmosphere of this book. We spend a great deal of time meeting the inhabitants of the town, few as they are, and learning the history and the founding of Eisendorf. In between these moments, we flash back to 1892 Munich, when Holmes first encountered the serial killer known as the Monster. The two stories are woven together well, each contributing new insights to the other.
Millett has always been phenomenal at writing eccentrics (many familiar with the series will well remember Shadwell Rafferty, who dominated Millett’s later books; while Rafferty appears in this book, he is not a main character), and it shines through here. Eisendorf is full of strange people. There’s the archivist, who notes down every detail of the town and whom Holmes cannot unravel; the young woman with a childish spirit who wears angel wings and claims to know secrets; the recluse who threatens Holmes whenever they meet; the outcast whose actions during World War I endangered much of the town; the town leader and his wife, who make for an odd pair; and the widow, that Holmes finds captivating. The secondary characters are delightful, and it is enjoyable trying to sort out which among them may have a motive and committed the crimes Holmes is investigating.
Millett’s descriptions are lush and rich, and anyone who likes to craft a good visual in their head will appreciate his attention to detail with the setting. Minnesota is a beautiful place, and the author’s descriptions create a written picture that will match any photos you pull up on the Internet or in a book.
The first two-thirds of the book are from a third-person perspective, following Holmes, which could be disconcerting for readers used to Watson’s first-person perspective. Thankfully, in the last third of the book, we return to what we are used to. The first part of the book is still well done, however, if occasionally too willing to repeat internal thoughts of Holmes’ that don’t need to be stated with such frequency.
It’s a charming, quick book, and I enjoyed it immensely. I hope Millett will consider writing more works in this timeline, one rarely explored by pastiche writers. It would be lovely to have a set of books that focus on the cases of Holmes and Watson, well past retirement and post-World War I.
For a while, I feared I would have little to report on the Watson front. The first two-thirds of the book feature Holmes by himself, without any of his usual allies or friends, in Eisendorf. I was fully prepared to write about the occasional affectionate thoughts that Holmes has for Watson, and to note that his brief appearance at the beginning is pleasant, if unsatisfying for the dedicated Watsonian.
Thankfully, however, Watson makes a heroic entrance towards the end, and while he doesn’t get to contribute much in the solving of the mystery, his personality comes through in spades. Watson rushes off to America, leaving his irate second wife behind (the second Mrs. Watson is not well liked by Holmes, or the author it would seem) in order to get to Holmes’ side. He is shown to be an excellent doctor, whose medical opinion Holmes trusts above all others, and is quick to follow through on Holmes’ strange requests. His sarcastic humor comes out at the most unexpected times, much to my amusement.
While there isn’t as much Watson content as I would like, when Watson is there, he is very recognizably Watson.
Minnesota; small town histories; Southern Gothic mysteries; ruminations on age and illness
by Marcia Wilson
MXPublishing (December 2016)
273 p. ISBN 9781787050297
Lestrade panted, getting to his feet as the gang of Cheathams fell back. “Right now I can think of worse things than rescue by an amateur detective.”
“My dear Lestrade, we’re simply ensuring the fight is fair.” Sherlock Holmes somehow dissuaded the truth of that by the way his lips were coiling up at the edges (without letting go of the pipe in his teeth). Perhaps it was because he was clearly in disguise as a seedy deckhand in Dutchman’s sailing clothes.
From behind him the little professional could see Dr. Watson, tarred like a sailor and armed with a wicked-looking blackthorn.
“Well, then!” Lestrade crowed with his fist up and parallel to the looming swarm over the tavern. “Who is next?”
The second in Marcia Wilson’s series about Scotland Yard (the first being You Buy Bones, a book all Watsonians should look into because of its focus on Watson), The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon does not disappoint. This is a book that is clearly setting up for a series, a possibly a lengthy one, given that it begins in the early 1880s and gives us a glimpse at Moriarty and his maneuvers from the get-go.
The story focuses on Lestrade, and does incredibly well by him. He is depicted as competent above all else, with his approach to policework being less about the mind (such as Gregson and Holmes) and more about getting out and finding evidence. It is the difference between, if I may borrow from another book series, a Hufflepuff and a Ravenclaw- both approaches are useful, just different. Lestrade is granted a dignity he so often lacks in other stories, as is the rest of Scotland Yard. We have a number of Canon Inspectors and Constables appear and each of them has a unique personality and history that is consistent with what we see of them in the original stories. We also get a look at what policing in the 1880s was like, and suddenly it becomes clear both why Holmes doesn’t want to be a Yarder and why the Yard needs someone like Holmes from time to time. The thanklessness of being a policeman isn’t shied away from, even as we see our Inspectors doing their best to do right.
The mystery itself has multiple parts. We meet a new villain, who is sincerely awful and has a history with Lestrade. We have several different cases that the Yarders are working on, which come together in various ways, making it a fun read as you try to decide which cases are connected, if any, and how they are all connected. The author makes a point of setting up Moriarty as potentially involved in some way at the start of the book, making it as much about the Yarders as it is about the construction and unveiling of Moriarty’s Empire- something I am VERY excited to read about.
The lives and personalities of the Canon characters are perfection, but we also have a number of amazing original characters as well that weave together with familiar ones to create a full and rich world. The Cheatham family as a whole will intrigue anyone who enjoys complicated family dynamics; our new villain is quietly, charmingly frightening; and most importantly, we meet a new heroine, who is very worthy of joining the pantheon of Holmesian Heroines. Clea Cheatham is clever, hardworking, tough, and yet achingly vulnerable at various points in the novel.
Another thing I enjoyed had nothing to do with the writing or the story, but the illustrations. The author herself drew little pictures for the start of each chapter, as well as a full portrait at the very beginning of the book of members of the Yard. The illustrations are utterly charming, and truly add to the experience of the book.
Though the novel has a number of editing issues that sometimes detract from ones enjoyment, The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon isn’t one to miss. And if you don’t trust my word, trust our own “Marker,” David Marcum, who is quoted as saying “Marcia Wilson has discovered Scotland Yard’s Tin Dispatch Box” on the back of the book- high praise!
While Watson isn’t as present in this book as he is in Wilson’s previous published work, he is still very much a part of this story. The Yarders like and appreciate Watson, and in many ways would prefer to consult with him rather than Holmes. He is the Yarders’ preferred doctor, whenever possible, because of his professionalism and willingness to be discrete. Watson is shown, however, to be more than just a professional associate; he is shown to be friendly with them, in particular Lestrade, who he sometimes visits for social reasons rather than medical or professional ones. The rapport they share is comfortable and warm, and it makes for interesting insights into who Watson is.
Watson is shown to contribute meaningfully to Holmes’ work as well, as Holmes defers to Watson’s medical expertise and values his insights. He is with Holmes throughout the investigation, even, at one point, dressed in a truly hilarious disguise that Holmes gave to him. He is deeply loyal to Holmes- sometimes frustratingly so, from the Yarders’ perspective, as he won’t tell tales out of school about Holmes- and their friendship is often reflected on by other characters, who don’t quite understand it but respect it all the same.
If a Watsonian decides to pick up this book, I would still recommend that you read You Buy Bones first, both for the continuity between the two and for the amount of Watson you’ll encounter, but this book will not disappoint if you want a good, capable, heroic Watson.
Canon Scotland Yard characters; lots of historical details; Moriarty machinations; workplace stories
When Sherlock Holmes turns down the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson – the landlady of Baker Street – and Mary Watson – the wife of Dr Watson – resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of 221b, the two women begin their inquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.
A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the fearsome Ripper supposedly still stalks. They soon discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk – the lives of many others are in danger too.
As Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson put together the pieces of an increasingly complex puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can they solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?
The House at Baker Street may easily be one of the strongest pastiches that came out in 2016, and it’s certainly my favorite. It tells the story of Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson making the choice to take on the role of detective after Mr Holmes rejects a client they feel needs help. It is a simple enough premise, but one executed to great effect in this book.
The story is told from Mrs Hudson’s POV, and the narrative is occasionally meandering, occasionally wandering, and brings to mind a story not written down as a book but rather one she is speaking out loud. The writing style makes you feel as though you’re sitting at Mrs Hudson’s bedside, hearing her confess the secrets of her life, the things she’s never been able to bring herself to say before now.
And the secrets are a major theme in this book. The mystery itself, a somewhat straightforward case of blackmail (with a few twists), is naturally all about secrets: the secrets of the victimized women, the secrets of the blackmailer’s assistants, and the secrets of the blackmailers themselves. But what’s particularly lovely about this book are the secrets that aren’t actually tied to the mystery (which does sometimes become a plodding, ponderous thing, though not so much that it hurt my enjoyment of this book).
There are the secrets that Holmes and Watson keep from Mrs Hudson and Mary, the secrets of their clients and cases. There are the secrets that our heroines keep from the men, both personal and in the course of their own case. Most interesting to me are the secrets of Canon introduced to the reader, such as how Holmes and Mrs Hudson met, or how Mrs Hudson took the news that Mary and John were to marry. If you’ve ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of the Canon, this book offers up a number of fascinating suggestions.
There is also the secret Mrs Hudson withholds from the story, one that she hints at throughout the book. It’s a secret most Holmesians can easily discern, knowing as we do how the Canon goes, but seeing how this author will execute it keeps this reader, at least, feeling both excitement and dread for the books still to come in this series.
Mrs Hudson is a phenomenal protagonist, a woman who has always desired adventure and excitement and instead found herself creating what life she could on a heap of disappointments, satisfying herself by listening at the air vent to the cases that come to Holmes and Watson. She is a smart woman, and deeply compassionate – her relationship with the Irregulars is one of the strongest parts of this book – and she makes an excellent detective in the end, though it takes her a while to reach her conclusions. She doubts herself at times, and wonders what she’s doing, but she is a natural observer and has a talent for seeing the big picture. She’s more hesitant and practical than Mary, but she is also fiercely loyal and brave, two traits which drive her throughout the story.
There is enormous affection for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, despite the narrative’s implicit criticism of Holmes’ seeming disregard for Mrs Shirley. Though both Mary and Mrs Hudson are disappointed in Holmes for doing so, he is never depicted as a villain or a cruel man, just a flawed one who sometimes cannot see beyond his own assumptions of the world. It’s a remarkably nuanced approach to Holmes, and one I’d love to see more of in other pastiches.
Many of the secondary characters drawn from Canon get a lovely treatment too. We get to know a number of Irregulars and see their own personal relationships with Mrs Hudson. There are Canonical antagonists, both infamous (as the publisher’s summary suggests) and less well known. While some readers may feel that the book packs too many Canonical characters in, I thought they all served a purpose and weren’t just there to show that the author knows her Canon. Rather, they are all given a rich personal life, and fit well within the themes of the book.
There is so much more that I want to mention and talk about in this review but can’t, for fear of spoilers. I truly adored this pastiche, and am very much looking forward to the sequel, which comes out in February of 2017, only two months from now!
John Watson appears here as perfectly as one might hope. He is always haring off with Holmes, gun in hand, helping him with his current cases. He is shown as intensely loyal to Holmes, caring and respectful of Mary, and also as a kind and loyal friend to Mrs Hudson. We get to see him as a doctor on multiple occasions, and every time he is competent and comforting. He is also the ultimate secret keeper, in my opinion, as he finds a way to both keep and respect Mary’s secrets while protecting Holmes’ as well. He is an excellent partner, friend, and husband. Honestly, he just wins all the husband awards in this book. I wish more people would portray the marriage between Mary and Watson like this: affectionate, teasing, and full of implicit trust.
And then there’s Mary. While this Society is devoted to John H Watson, I decided that Mary Watson should be my focus when discussing the Watsonian aspects of this book. As it is written in the book, “If he loved her, she must be worth his loving.”
Mary Watson is an absolute gem, and is the best part of this book for me. She is truly the Mary Watson we meet in SIGN, so incredibly smart and adventurous and more than a match for John. Mary is the energy of our detective duo here, brimming with enthusiasm and passion for what they’re trying to do. Holmes himself credited Mary with “a decided genius” in SIGN, and it is on full display here. Her powers of deduction are less refined, but as she explains, she’s listened to enough of John’s stories to know the basics of applying the skills. She is also deeply compassionate and social, and her kindness often moves the case along as people instinctively open up to her (“birds to a lighthouse” indeed!).
That isn’t to say she’s shown as perfect. In fact, Mary is a bit reckless, horribly stubborn, and has a sharp and abrupt temper, all of which cause problems for her at different points. But it’s impossible not to love Mary, who so desperately wants to help, and who so desperately wants to be more than a housewife.
I will admit, I haven’t seen many depictions of Mary in pastiches. She’s often relegated to the side as having waved Watson off for his own adventures, if she’s a character in them at all. But other books will be hard-pressed to show me a stronger, fiercer Mary than this one. This is a Mary who is certainly worthy of John Watson – although here, I might instead say that Watson is worthy of this Mary. I am certainly looking forward to the next book and finding out how Mary handles their latest mystery.
Women Protagonists; Backstories and Character-Driven Stories; the Baker Street Babes Podcast; Examinations of Class and Gender in Victorian London
(Note from Selena Buttons: This review was supposed to appear last Thursday, but was delayed by technical difficulties. Apologies, Lucy!)
Note from Selena Buttons: We’re very excited to have a new book reviewer here in the Consulting Rooms. Please welcome Elise Elliot, JHWS “Lucy”!
Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen―always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.
When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.
The Great Shelby Holmes is a super cute take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos. I thoroughly enjoyed the elements from the original canon that the author scattered throughout the book, as well as her willingness to adjust and change certain elements to better match her modern, child versions of the characters. The mystery was simplistic in its trappings (a dog show champion has gone missing), but had a number of potential villains with motives and opportunity which should entertain young readers as they follow along. Older readers (like myself!) should enjoy the whimsy of it all, because it’s truly a sweet version of a “Sherlock Holmes” mystery. The book also endeared itself to me because it was set in a realistic New York City; that is to say, there was a great deal of diversity in this book, reflecting the actual diversity of the city.
Shelby Holmes is a lovely character. She is a bit of an oddball and doesn’t make friends easily- though it’s wonderful to see her rocky attempts to do so. This is a Holmes that WANTS to be friends with people, but isn’t entirely sure how one does that. She has an adorably pretentious way of speaking (which may grate on some people, but I found it realistic enough when compared to some of the kids I’ve worked with), and a nicely tense, but loving, relationship with her family. It will be interesting to see how she grows as a person over the course of the books, especially as she has shown a (grudging) willingness to follow Watson’s lead when it comes to interacting with people.
I enjoyed this book, overall, and I’m really hoping the author has more planned for this series. It is such a promising beginning.
Watson is the true delight in this book. Watson is our POV character (naturally), and while the book could be all about Shelby, given the title, it actually achieves a very nice balance between the two characters. Watson has his own objectives and concerns- he’s an army brat with recently divorced parents, in a new city, trying to make new friends. While he’s intrigued and curious about Shelby, he tries not to let her goals overwhelm and distract from his own.
This book introduced Watson to the art of observation and deduction, and showed him slowly learning the tricks and traits to become a detective and equal partner. Happily, the book didn’t decide to paint Watson as slower than Holmes; instead, it treated observation and deduction as a skill that Watson can learn, and we get to see him working at it. It’s a wonderful lesson for kids, as well as adults.
They gave some of canon Watson’s traits to his mother, which I personally thought was delightful (the fact that she’s in the military was the main one), but I thought it was clever and interesting to take some of the life-changing trauma that our canon Watson endured (the Afghanistan War) and transform it into the life-altering emotional upheaval of a recent divorce and subsequent estrangement from one parent. In this way, Eulberg’s Watson is still freshly wounded and grieving when he meets Holmes, just in a different way than Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson.
Watson is warm and kind, and I’m hoping he’ll get to spend more time contributing to the mysteries in future books, now that he’s beginning to learn how detectives think and work.
Middle reader books; Modern retellings; BBC Sherlock or Elementary; New York City; Dogs.
A cold rain dashing against the side of the house… bare trees shuddering with every gust… the barometer as downcast as a bad disposition…. What better time than winter to curl up in front of the fireplace and crack open a book? On everybody’s reading list this season is the brand new volume About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best, edited by Christopher Redmond, JHWS “Buster”, and published by Wildside Press in October.
It’s a singular achievement. Sixty writers – including a few members of the John H Watson Society – were asked to tackle one each of the sixty tales that comprise the Sherlock Holmes Canon, making a concise case why that particular story belongs at the top of the heap. The essayists are a diverse blend of experienced Sherlockian commentators and recent converts who bring a fresh perspective. Whether you’re familiar only with the better-known titles, like The Hound of the Baskervilles, or you know your way around more obscure stories such as “The Missing Three-Quarter”, the results are both erudite and entertaining. This book will have you reaching for the Canon time and again to reacquaint yourself with that world where “it is always 1895.”
Sherlockian author Sonia Fetherston, JHWS “Gypsy”, was one who contributed to About Sixty, with her chapter on “A Case of Identity.” She recently asked Chris to join her for a Q&A concerning not just the book and its contributors, but a bit about the eminent editor himself:
SF: Can you give me sixty reasons why people should buy this book?
CR: Bookworm, humanizing, desire, scam, maidens, perfect, tragic, relevant, quotable, serpent, hysterical, pomposity, maxim, terror, iconic, unreliable, psyche, impetuous, hubris, joy, methods, fauna, foul, hamstrung, naked, heroic, embodiment, villain, logic, puzzles, terribly, juvenile, convoluted, loathing, smile, trifles, texture, twinkle, lying, confront, nuances, monster, mellower, confidential, barb, dialect, motive, obituary, silly, tension, prank, comedy, exotic, treasure, experiment, morality, delicious, ponder, grief, wallpaper. One word from each of the sixty essays — in order!
SF: Okay, maybe two or three reasons, fleshed out a bit?
CR: Because it presents insights into Sherlock Holmes not from one well-informed Sherlockian mind but from sixty different minds, hearts and viewpoints. Because it is anchored in the Canon itself and won’t easily go out of fashion. Because it contemplates every part of the Canon in proportion, not just a few favoured stories or topics.
SF: Who is your target audience: readers of the Holmes Canon, or prospective readers of the Holmes Canon?
CR: The book is certainly for people who have read the stories — there are spoilers in almost every essay. It would be heart-warming, though, to think of a first-timer using this book: reading each canonical story in turn, and then turning to the corresponding essay.
SF: In 1927 Arthur Conan Doyle developed his own list of the twelve Sherlockian stories he thought were the best, among them “The Speckled Band” and “The Red-Headed League.” Did his list play any role in prompting this project? How did you get the idea for your book?
CR: The Introduction to About Sixty tells a little about the origins of the idea, going all the way back to a daydream many years ago of writing sixty essays myself. Such a book would have been monotonous, I think, but involving sixty authors with sixty different voices brought it to vibrant life. A few of the authors mention ACD’s list, but I’ve never taken it very seriously. For one thing, it was done before he had written the last dozen or so of the stories, and for another, he was famously bad at judging the quality of his own work. Also, of course, this book doesn’t try to list stories that are in second, third, and subsequent places — it makes it clear that all sixty tales are in a tie for first!
SF: Many people would agree with Conan Doyle that a tale like “The Speckled Band” is highly ranked. But what are some Sherlockian stories you reckon are most difficult to defend… most difficult to think of as being “the best?”
CR: I think everybody would agree that “The Mazarin Stone” is awkward and wooden, possibly because it was first written as a play and should have stayed that way. Many people dislike “The Three Gables” because of its descent — offensive, but typical for its time — into racist cartoons, and also because its plot depends on sleazy sexual intrigue. Still, both of these stories also have their strengths, as authors in About Sixty demonstrate. My favourite example of a rehabilitated story, though, is “The Veiled Lodger”, which is often scorned because it doesn’t call on Sherlock Holmes to be much of a detective. In About Sixty, Jaime Mahoney does a brilliant job of rehabilitating it, pointing out that it’s (these are my words, not hers) a haunting human story of love, hate, joy, sorrow, patience and courage.
SF: Your essayists are an eclectic mix of veterans and newcomers to the Sherlockian fold. How did you go about choosing these people to participate?
CR: I started by asking my immediate circle of friends, then reached further to various parts of the Sherlockian world, always to people I could contact by e-mail. I tried not to call on well-known people who were already busy with other projects, but in a few cases I wavered, and was glad to have their reputations helping to bolster the project’s reputation. A few of the authors I didn’t know at all, but came recommended by people I had already enlisted. In a few cases I’m sure I was taking a risk with people who really hadn’t written much in the past, but there was nobody who didn’t meet the standard, and some of the lesser-known authors came up with particularly interesting and thought-provoking essays.
SF: Marshaling sixty busy writers, not to mention sixty creative egos, must have been a challenge.
CR: People were astonishingly willing to write, hardly anybody had trouble meeting the deadline, most of the essays took only very modest editing, and hardly anybody was anything but cooperative and grateful for any suggestions. The book was a lot of work, certainly, but it came together as if it truly was meant to be.
SF: You have a reputation for being a lifelong Holmes enthusiast. Tell me about your own introduction to Sherlock Holmes. What was the Sherlockian story that hooked you, and kept you coming back for more?
CR: I gobbled up all the stories when I was a young teenager — that’s what people did in those days. The story I chiefly remember reading was The Hound of the Baskervilles, probably because it was so creepy. In some cases I probably was too young to appreciate the stories properly, and one of the real benefits of working on About Sixty has been that I needed to return to each story with a mature eye and absorb what a perceptive Sherlockian was saying about it… insights that in some cases I should have experienced decades ago.
SF: You’re planning a dinner party for six characters from the Canon. Who will be sitting around your table, and why those particular characters?
CR: Not Sherlock Holmes, I think; I don’t want the risk of criminal relics in the butter-dish. But Watson, certainly, the doctor with the gifts of friendship and congeniality, and with an endless stock of stories to retell from his Reminiscences. Where there is Watson, there must be women, starting with his charming wife Mary Morstan. She’s a blonde, and somehow I imagine Watson arriving with a redhead and a brunette as well, perhaps Violet Hunter and Beryl Stapleton, who both have their own tales to repeat. But there needs to be a balance of men and women, so let’s add Arthur Cadogan West (solid and decent and good-hearted, but he needs to get out more) and Nathan Garrideb (he definitely needs to get out more).
SF: Quick! Tell me which books are on your bedside table right now? Aside from your well-known love of Conan Doyle’s creations, what else are you reading?
CR: I am embarrassed to say that in the past year or two I haven’t done much serious reading at all. I spend far too much time online! I have almost given up reading nonfiction, although the last book I finished was Thinking It Over by Hesketh Pearson, the autobiography of a London actor and author of the prewar era (one of his books was a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle). I gobble up Sherlockian pastiches, while rolling my eyes at how bad most of them are. It’s a pleasure just now to be reading Denis O. Smith’s Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes — he really captures the style and flavour of the originals, as few other authors manage to do. I have a half-formed plan to give up reading new books for a year or two, and rediscover some classics that I loved as an undergraduate, particularly Renaissance poetry and drama. I might follow that up with the collected novels of Anthony Trollope.
SF: What other Redmond projects are on tap for 2017….and beyond?
CR: I hope to be making an announcement soon about another anthology, every bit as eclectic as About Sixty and with some of the same authors. Beyond that, there are always lots of ideas, but I don’t know which of them will catch fire. My long-term hope is to write a book, provisionally called Reading Sherlock Holmes, that elaborates my ideas about what can be found in the Canon and how to discover and enjoy it; but I don’t quite know when that’s going to happen!
Ah! That sounds like something we’ll be reading next winter, when the wind is sobbing “like a child in the chimney,” as Dr Watson would say!
(Note from Selena Buttons: the original posting omitted Sonia Fetherston’s Society Moniker of “Gypsy”. That has been corrected. Apologies, Gypsy!)
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Raven’s Call follows Holmes into retirement, where shortly after he arrives in Sussex Downs he becomes aware that a reported accidental death may have been murder. Holmes uses his gifts for observation and deduction to discover the identity of the murderer and teams up with a new partner to get the guilty party’s confession. A pastiche of the first order, Raven’s Call will delight the Holmes enthusiast as it shows the consulting detective may retire, but is never retiring.
Bodies washing up along the eastern coast of New England and the mysterious grounding of a “ghost ship” near Manhattan combine to bring Sherlock Holmes out of retirement to resume his pursuit of the villainous Baron Antonio Barlucci-the Whitechapel Vampire. But when he arrives in London to enlist the assistance of Dr. Watson, the good doctor has reservations.
It’s been twenty-five years since Holmes and Watson hunted Barlucci, twenty-five years since they learned the baron was buried beneath a mountain of ice and snow.
Has Holmes’ preoccupation with Barlucci driven him to see connections where none exist? Have his powers of deduction gone stale while in retirement? Has Watson’s worst fear, that Holmes’ obsession with the baron has unbalanced his finely tuned psyche, come true?
Sherlock Holmes and the Return of the Whitechapel Vampire is the exciting finalé to the Whitechapel Vampire Trilogy. In this final chapter, Holmes must face more than evil. He must face his own mortality-the only certainty in an uncertain world.
“Right from the opening paragraphs, I was overjoyed because I felt I was reading a brand new Conan Doyle mystery. Being a die- hard fan of the original, I then became wary: could a modern author be successful in this tremendous undertaking? The answer is a resounding yes! SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE RETURN OF THE WHITECHAPEL VAMPIRE is more than an homage to Conan Doyle: Mr. Turnbloom essentially captures everything that is Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson but makes it his own, without the reader ever having the impression of the author “trying”; never does the author endeavour to copy, but he in fact prolongs the formidable legacy of Conan Doyle.” – Monique Daost