The Cat of the Baskervilles (Book Review)

The Cat of the Baskervilles

by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (February 2018)
304 p. ISBN 9781683314714

Publisher’s Summary

When Jayne Wilson’s mother is accused of murder, Jayne and Gemma have to eliminate the impossible to reveal the true killer.

Legendary stage and movie star Sir Nigel Bellingham arrives on Cape Cod to star in a stage production of The Hound of the Baskervilles put on by the West London Theater Festival. When Sir Nigel, some of the cast, and the director visit the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop at 222 Baker Street, Gemma Doyle realizes that Sir Nigel is not at all suited to the role. He is long past his prime and an old drunk to boot.

The cast, in particular the much younger actor who previously had the role, are not happy, but the show must go on.

Before the play opens, Leslie Wilson, mother of Gemma’s best friend Jayne, arranges a fundraising afternoon tea to be catered by Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room. The tea is a huge success, but when it’s time to leave, Sir Nigel has gone missing―only to be found at the bottom of the rocky cliff, dead. Along with the dead body, Gemma finds evidence incriminating Leslie Wilson. When the police, in the presence of handsome detective Ryan Ashburton and suspicious detective Louise Estrada, focus their attention on Leslie despite the numerous other suspects, the game is once again afoot and it’s again up to the highly perceptive Gemma and the ever-confused but loyal Jayne to clear Jayne’s mother’s name.

General Review

When Ms. Delany contacted the Society, offering an ARC of her third book, I jumped at the offer.  I reviewed her first book (review here), and enjoyed it quite a bit.  I didn’t review the second book for the Society, but I did read it, and though I thought there were some weaknesses, I still loved it, especially since it focused on pastiche writers.  This third book, however, I was incredibly eager to read.  As a person who works in theatre, how could I resist a book that brings Holmesian theatre to the center of the plot?

I wasn’t disappointed at all (well, perhaps a little- there was no stage manager character, and as a stage manager, I’m always on the look out for my people!).  I have always appreciated how each book in this series brings in a different aspect of Holmesiana.  The first looked at the original Strand magazines and collectors; the second book focused on pastiches and their writers.  Having the third book focus on theatre was excellent, as it forced Gemma and Jayne out of the book store more.  Although the Sherlock Holmes book store and tea room are still an important location, it no longer becomes the site of so much death, and it lets the reader see the wider community as well.

Gemma continues to be a fun twist on the Holmes character, self-aware enough to know that some people don’t appreciate her insights, and yet too straightforward to stop herself in time.  After the second book, where all the detective work was accomplished through conversations, I was pleased to see a return of footwork to Gemma’s investigations.  While I appreciate the fact that Holmes was, before Watson, largely an armchair detective, I like to see a little more movement in my pastiches.  Gemma got to do a spot of breaking and entering in this book, much to my delight, in addition to her gently (and occasionally not-so-gently) prying conversations.  I also loved how very concerned she was for Jayne, our Watson, throughout the entire book.  Too often Holmeses are portrayed as disinterested in their Watsons; I was pleased to see that this book did not go that route.

The mystery is light, and not terribly difficult for a reader to solve, but it’s enjoyable to watch how Gemma gets to the conclusion.  I was intrigued by the way the author decided to wrap up the mystery in this book.  It was not the traditional way at all, and while I solved the mystery itself, I still didn’t see the end coming.

This is a series where reading the previous books aren’t terribly necessary to understanding the plot, as the author does much recapping and explaining of who everyone is, so if the previous two books haven’t been of interest to you but this one sounds fun, I would recommend picking it up.  It’s a very fun read, and perfect for anyone snowed in who wants to just curl up with something light while they drink their cocoa.

What About Our Watson?

I love Jayne Wilson.  I think it’s fair to say that she isn’t a Watson in the most traditional sense (she is a somewhat reluctant partner during Gemma’s investigations), but there is something about her that makes me fiercely protective of her.  She can be a little bit Bruce-ian at times—she has never really tried to notice things the way Gemma does—but if I had to assign a screen Watson to her, for comparison, I’d actually say she’s a bit like Galina Shchepetnova, the Watson in My Dearly Beloved Detective.  Sweet, a little bit ditzy, but incredibly fierce when provoked.

One of the reasons I chose not to review Delany’s second book, Body on Baker Street, for the Society was that Jayne had a somewhat reduced role as compared to the first book.  Much to my relief, Jayne returned to her role more fully in Cat of the Baskervilles.  Given that her mother is the prime suspect in the mystery, we got to see Jayne through a full range of emotions, deepening her character quite a bit.

I also enjoyed seeing Jayne in a “military” mode—while catering for an afternoon tea event.  She is very much in charge during the tea, and it was lovely seeing her as strong, capable, and the boss of Gemma.  I also was very fond of the part where Jayne sets Gemma straight about her dating life.  Gemma being protective of Jayne is something I enjoyed about this book, but I appreciated that Jayne is perfectly able to take care of herself, without Gemma “handling” things for her.

I truly love Jayne Wilson; she’s one of my favourite parts of this series, and I hope the author continues to expand her role.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Theatre; cozy mysteries; actor drama; romance

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