Welcome to the Doctor’s Library:
Book Reviews and Recommendations
Is there a book you think we should review? Please see our Review Policy for how to let us know!
Is there a book you think we should review? Please see our Review Policy for how to let us know!
edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Jonathan Maberry
Diversion Books (April 24 2018)
270 p. ISBN 978-1635763775
Thirteen authors, including Narrelle M. Harris, Jody Lynn Nye, and Sarah Stegall, come together in the second edition of Baker Street Irregulars to pen an original collection of short stories on the iconic and timeless character, Sherlock Holmes.
In this new edition of Baker Street Irregulars, a cast of authors riff on the iconic figure of Sherlock Holmes in over a dozen captivating new ways. In Keith DeCandido’s “Six Red Dragons,” Sherlock is a young girl in modern New York City. In Sarah Stegall’s “Papyrus,” Sherlock is a female librarian in ancient Egypt. In Daniel M. Kimmel’s mesmerizing “A Scandal in Chelm,” Sherlock is a rabbi. Derek Beebe sends Sherlock to the moon, while Mike Strauss, in “The Adventure of the Double Sized Final Issue,” casts him as a comic book character. The backdrops run the gamut from a grade school classroom to Jupiter, from rural, post-Civil War to an alien spaceship. While preserving the timeless charm and intrigue of Sherlock Holmes, these authors pen stories of the world’s greatest detective as you’ve never seen him before.
The Baker Street Irregulars: The Game’s Afoot is the second Holmesian anthology that Michael A. Ventrella and Jonathan Maberry have edited, the first being The Baker Street Irregulars. In both volumes, authors write stories about Holmes and Watson reimagined, whether in a different time, a different gender, a different species, etc. It isn’t a new concept, as far as anthologies go; some may remember the anthology Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by Guy Adams and David Thomas Moore, which came out in 2014.
Anthologies are always a bit tricky, because inevitably there are a few weaker stories amongst the strong ones—presuming there are strong ones at all, which is not always a guarantee. Happily, this anthology contains a number of stories that I felt were exceptionally strong, and a few that I desperately wish were much longer. I wouldn’t rate any of the stories as complete duds, though there were one or two that I didn’t enjoy as much.
Before I give certain stories individual reviews, I would like to point out one flaw with this anthology that rankled as I read: the lack of diversity amongst the authors. Although I cannot say for certain, it appeared that all the authors in this anthology were white, something I find disappointing to encounter. Given that the anthology was made up of a wide range of authorial backgrounds (none are traditional Holmesian pastiche authors, for instance), I wouldn’t have thought it terribly difficult to ensure that authors of color were included. I truly hope that as more Holmesian anthologies are put together, a stronger effort will be put into making sure a diverse range of identities are represented.
Now for a few thoughts on individual stories…
One of my favourites in the anthology was “The Adventure of the Diode Detective,” written by Jody Lynn Nye. In this story, Holmes and Watson are… wait for it… apps. Sure-Lock Homes is a security app. What’s-On? is a social app, combining ideas like Netflix, MeetUp, and Facebook into one place. When I read the premise to my husband, he raised an eyebrow and said “yeah, how is that going to work?” which was my thought as well- and yet it did. Not only was the entire thing witty and clever, it was also incredibly well-plotted. It was nicely paced, with a true arc to the story. My husband ended up reading over my shoulder, which (as a non-Holmesian) never happens. I LOVED this story. I thought the author did a magnificent job in capturing the personalities of Holmes and Watson as apps (they are, in case you are wondering, very AI-driven, which helps), showing how concerned they are for their owner and how far they’ll go to protect her. And of course, the ending is one that any Watsonian will love.
I also thoroughly enjoyed “Papyrus” by Sarah Stegell. In this story, which takes place in ancient Egypt, Holmes is Seshet, the Royal Librarian, and Watson is Raneb, who is a First Rank physician from the Black Land, on a mission to save his home from given to a different Temple. While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the setting (my gut says that historical details were fudged for the sake of adventure), it was an engaging story, with court politics and a nicely crafted mystery surrounding a land deed. I would love to see an entire novel, or even series, crafted from this short story, as Seshet and Raneb made an excellent team, with phenomenal chemistry. Raneb is instantly fascinated by Seshet, and dives into her world with only the slightest of hesitations. I want to see their partnership grow, and more of how a Holmes and Watson would navigate Egypt in the time of pharaohs.
I appreciated Hildy Silverman’s “My Dear Wa’ats” in which Holmes and Watson are aliens; She’er is the Captain of a spaceship, after having served in law enforcement, where their spouse, Wa’ats, still works. They meet again when Wa’ats boards She’er’s vessel, searching for the criminal Mori. The author manages to pack in a lot of worldbuilding in a very small story, but never did I feel like I was just being given an infodump on the world; instead, it felt organic, information flowing naturally as characters reflected on it. The conflict in this story is as much personal as it is about the crime, but the crime and, specifically, the criminal, is SO fascinating. There were some weak moments in this story, largely regarding gender role assumptions and some occasionally sloppy editing, but I would love to see an entire series set in this world, with She’er and Wa’ats.
My final favourite of the anthology was Gordon Linzner’s “Sin-Eater and the Adventure of Ginger Mary.” Darker in tone than many of the other stories, Linzner’s tale takes place in Appalachia, post-Civil War. Our Watson is Salali, a Native American woman (as a note: I have no knowledge on Linzner’s background, nor if this story was looked over by someone who is Native; I cannot speak on whether or not Salali and her husband Dagatoga are decent representation) while our Holmes is Cavish, the town outcast and, secretly, sin eater. The mystery revolves around the death of a child, originally presumed a suicide and discovered to be a murder. It is a mournful, haunting little story, one that manages to encompass a full investigation (excellently done) while also showing us the give-and-pull of Salali and Cavish’s odd, but deep, friendship.
Though these four stories were my favourites, there were certainly other ones that were well-written and others may prefer. Some notables include “A Very Important Nobody” by Chuck Regan (in which Holmes is named Theramin Joules!); “The Problem of Three Journals” by Narrelle M. Harris (in which Holmes and Watson are hipster baristas); and “The Affair of the Green Crayon” (in which Holmes and Watson teach elementary school).
Overall, I did not regret reading this anthology, something I cannot always say. There were certainly a few weaker stories, but I didn’t feel like any of them were bad, and none of them made me throw my Nook across the room in irritation. And some of these stories were so excellent that I secretly hope the authors fell in love with their premises so that they can expand the story into a full length novel. Until then, I suppose I’ll just have to get my own copy of this book (mine is an ARC, provided by NetGalley) and keep reading the short versions.
There are thirteen stories in this anthology and, as such, thirteen different takes on Watson. I had one earlier caveat, about the lack of racial diversity amongst the authors, and here is my second caveat for this anthology: if you want to read about new and fascinating Watsons, you may be a bit stymied. While there were many, many intriguing Watsons, much of the world building really took place around the Holmes, with Watson being a bit of an afterthought. There were some exceptions. Two of my favourite stories, “My Dear Wa’ats” and “Sin-Eater and the Adventure of Ginger Mary” each had a Watson with their own internal life, their own hopes and dreams, their own ambitions. Another Watson that came across as having a life of their own was our Watson in “A Study in Space”. But because the authors were all having to create and explain a whole new Holmesian setting, our Watsons were largely relegated to being narrators, with occasional personal snippets thrown in.
I don’t necessarily think this is true failure; certainly, Watson in canon tells us all of three paragraphs about himself before he starts delving into how cool his new roommate is. But when one has a canon knowledge of Watson, it can be a bit of a shock to go back to STUD again and again and again in terms of characterization.
This is another reason I’d like to see some of these authors expand their stories. I think several of them have a really good grasp on what a Watson can be, but were restricted by page/word limits. It would be lovely to see their characters return, perhaps in a future anthology. My understanding is that one author, Keith R.A. DeCandido, actually did this in the anthology; his characters Jack Watson and Shirley Holmes are actually continued over from his story “Identity”, which appeared in the first anthology by Maberry and Ventrella. It would be great to see some of these authors do the same, whether by writing more short stories for this anthology series, or striking out on their own.
Short stories; science fiction; intriguing world building; something new
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know! Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know! Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know! Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.
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
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!
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
Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!