The Case of the Six Watsons by Robert Ryan “Caesar”

Case of the Six Watsons ebook cover(1)

Today, I’m happy to feature a review from one of the newest members of the John H Watson Society. Please welcome, “Dot,” who has written an early review of The Case of the Six Watsons by Robert Ryan, JHWS “Caesar” which will be available on September 3rd:

Robert Ryan, the John H. Watson Society’s own “Caesar,” has a new collection of short stories forthcoming, which I was fortunate enough to be able to preview. The Case of the Six Watsons presents stories that I am certain will delight members of the JHWS as much as they did me. Dr. John H. Watson is the focus of this collection, and each of the stories showcase his character and qualities in interesting ways.

The short story collection is dedicated in memory of Don Libey, the John H. Watson Society’s founder, known affectionately as “Buttons,” who passed away earlier this year, and is deeply missed. The short stories, themselves, contain a couple of lovely in-text references to Buttons, which I shall leave the reader to discover. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise!

Most of the stories in the collection of six have, as their inspiration, a piece of writing by Arthur Conan Doyle. These are the “apocrypha,” including stories such as “The Man with the Watches” and “The Lost Special.” Ryan builds upon the apocryphal stories, imagining Watson, and sometimes Holmes, within the events. What I found thrilling was the sheer range of the six stories Ryan tells. They are all set at different periods in Watson’s life, giving us an interesting view of the ways in which his character changes over time, and the ways in which he remains constant. It also gives us a view of how his friendship with Holmes changes over this time. In some instances, Watson easily predicts Holmes’ behavior, and is able to react accordingly. In “The Broken Crocodile”, they are estranged. Not only do the stories give us an interesting sampling of different periods in Watson’s life, they also allow Ryan to tell stories that are flavored with a variety of different tones and genres. “The Brazilian Wife” transitions from a more standard mystery setup to become a tense adventure story. “The Wrong Detective” is a locked room mystery that takes place in a train, with a compelling drama at its heart. “The Beetle Lover” and “The Prisoner in B.24” have some intriguing gothic horror elements.

The Prisoner of B.24” is also notable because it allows Watson to act in the role of judging a man’s innocence, and then acting upon that judgement in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice by the law. This is a role similar to those we have often seen Holmes play in the canon, so it is exciting to see Watson have his turn, and then to be able to relay what occurred to Holmes, when his friend returns to Baker Street.

I especially enjoyed two of the stories, “The Brazilian Wife,” and “The Broken Crocodile.” “The Brazilian Wife,” which I mentioned earlier, takes place during the Great Hiatus. Watson takes up the case of a client who appears at Baker Street during the time when Holmes is believed dead, despite receiving a mysterious message warning him to stay out of the matter. He finds himself embroiled in a situation that is not what it initially seems. The story has the feel of an excellent, suspenseful adventure story, and it is wonderful to see Watson show his qualities of adaptability, resourcefulness, and courage in a dire situation.

“The Broken Crocodile” is set within the “Watson at War” series, though it stands very well as an independent story. It is set in the Cairo of World War I, where Watson is working in his capacity as a military doctor, overseeing the implementation of a new blood transfusion technique. When a bowl purchased by Mrs. Emily Marchand at the market is accidentally shattered, Watson is introduced to T. E. Lawrence, who helps him find a local craftsman who is able to repair the bowl. From there, Watson is drawn into detective work and espionage, working to try to catch a spy copying maps produced in the map room where Lawrence works. This story is rich with intriguing details that evoke a strong sense of the setting, the period, and the characters. Also, I admit, I’m a mark for historical archaeologists (my undergraduate degree is in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology), so it was a thrill to read about Watson meeting, and having an adventure with, T. E. Lawrence. The references to the events within the “Watson at War” series were enough to give me a fuller sense of Watson’s character, and the context of his life at the time. They provided me with enough information to make me curious about the rest of the series, which I hope to be able to read in the future. On the whole, the story acts as a nice finale to “The Case of the Six Watsons,” providing a fun conclusion, as well as the possibility of being a jumping on point for future reading!

Happy Reading,

Lauren Messenger, JHWS “Dot”

The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan “Caesar”


This from Marcel Berlins’ crime round-up:

The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan

Dr John Watson was not, it seems, quite as dim as he’s portrayed in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Robert Ryan (with the consent of the Conan Doyle estate) reveals his true mettle. The Dead Can Wait is in no sense a pastiche, but a seriously good, very readable, well-researched novel incorporating the First World War, detection and espionage. It is 1916. Watson has become an expert on the injuries and mental traumas suffered by soldiers in battle. The British are secretly developing a new kind of weapon. But, in its first test, seven men involved become insane, then die spectacularly. The sole survivor is rendered mute. Watson is commanded to discover the causes of the tragedy, but there are foreign spies around and enemies within.

The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan, Simon and Schuster, 463 pp, £18.99. To buy this book for £14.99, visit Also available from Amazon.


This from Scott’s Miscellany:

There was a single line in one of the last Holmes books which said that Watson had gone back to his ‘old unit’  – that being the RAMC, and given that we were on the brink of WWI, that means he went back to war.

Thus arises one of the best post-Conan Doyle Sherlockian series, and a fantastic historical crime series.  The Major John Watson we come to know in the trenches in DEAD MAN’S LAND and again here in the UK in The Dead Can Wait is a humane, compassionate, competent individual, who nevertheless appreciates the help of his steadily deteriorating friend, Holmes.  The horrors of war are not stinted, but nor are they gratuitous.  In DML, we (well, I) learned a huge amount about nurses and the various auxilliaries and how they worked, while in TDCW, we (I) learn a lot we (I) didn’t know about ‘shell shock’ and then, later, about the early development of tanks. It’s fascinating, and yet none of it is presented as ‘here is the research I did, now suck it up and learn it’ which is so often the case in historical novels of this sort.  It’s all integral to the plot, and carries the dynamic tension even as we’re given a virtual tour of the tank testing grounds. There’s a truly scary German woman-spy, part of a network called the She Wolves, of whom I’m sure (I hope) we’ll learn more, and the very welcome return of Mrs Gregson, the red-headed, motor-bike riding, thoroughly competent nursing auxiliary.

Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan, JHWS “Caesar”

3748244.jpgDead Man’s Land

by Robert Ryan, JHWS “Caesar”

Published by Simon & Schuster

Available from Amazon UK     12 pounds

Deep in the trenches of Flanders Fields, men are dying in their thousands every day. So one more death shouldn’t be a surprise. But then a body turns up with bizarre injuries, and Sherlock Holmes’ former sidekick Dr John Watson – unable to fight for his country due to injury but able to serve it through his medical expertise – finds his suspicions raised. The face has a blue-ish tinge, the jaw is clamped shut in a terrible rictus and the eyes are almost popping out of his head, as if the man had seen unimaginable horror. Something is terribly wrong. But this is just the beginning. Soon more bodies appear, and Watson must discover who is the killer in the trenches. Who can he trust? Who is the enemy? And can he find the perpetrator before he kills again? Surrounded by unimaginable carnage, amidst a conflict that’s ripping the world apart, Watson must for once step out of the shadows and into the limelight if he’s to solve the mystery behind the inexplicable deaths.


As author Robert Ryan explained in a short essay for Crime Time, “Dead Man’s Land” was not originally his idea. His publisher was shopping around for “a work of fiction featuring a ‘detective in the trenches of World War I,’” and Ryan came up with a splendid solution: Why not send Dr. John H. Watson, of Sherlock Holmes fame, to the front lines in France, where he’d find himself involved in a homicide investigation? Of course, Watson would’ve been fairly old in 1918, when the action here takes place (in his mid-60s, by most reckonings).

That, however, proved to be a surmountable problem. In “Dead Man’s Land,” we find Watson – who, after all, was a battlefield surgeon before becoming the chronicler of a crime-solver’s escapades–in Flanders Fields as a major with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and “an expert in the new techniques of blood transfusion.”

He becomes grudgingly accustomed to the quotidian deaths of thousands of soldiers, the persistent bomb barrages, the pressures that weigh heavily upon physicians and nurses under such circumstances, and the appalling atmosphere of the trenches (“black tar from lamp wicks, the constant cigarettes, not to mention the tang of rat piss and the sour smell of unwashed clothes”).

Yet, when a sergeant suddenly perishes of an elusive ailment that turns his skin blue and his hands into claws, the horrific routines of war are upset. Blame is cast initially upon Watson’s blood transfusions; but when other, similar deaths are discovered, the old man’s sublimated sleuthing sensitivities are aroused, and his pursuit of a murderer with old grudges to exercise draws him into a deadly confrontation that must finally be settled in the worst possible place: the bleak no-man’s-land between the opposing armies.

Ryan’s portrayal of battlefield conditions is thorough and captivating, his cast of suspects sufficiently well drawn to have fooled me, and his capturing of Holmes’ associate faithful enough to have won the backing of Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate. The author has left himself room to write a sequel. I hope he will do just that.
-J. Kingston Pierce

Welcome to Six New Accomplished Charter Members

Sheila Holtgrieve, JHWS “Daisy”

Sheila joins us from Seattle where she is a member of The Sound of the Baskervilles. She writes:

“I am the librarian of the Sound of the Baskervilles in Seattle, WA. I received the
“Footprints of the Gigantic Hound” award from the club in 2012 for service to
the club. I subscribe to the Baker Street Journal; I am a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and a member of the Hounds of the Internet. My canonical name is Annie Harrison.”

We are most pleased to have Sheila as a new member and look forward to her participation.

Linnea Dodson, JHWS “Dixie”

Linnea joins us from Maryland where she is a technical writer with a  Master of Science in Writing. She is a member of Watson’s Tin Box, The Red Circle, and Sherlock DC. Linnea is also on the Convention Committee of the Scintillion of Scions.

We look forward to Linnea’s participation in the Society and her contributions to The Watsonian.

Denny Dobry, JHWS “Kirby”

Mr Dobry resides in Reading, Pennsylvania. He has a most interesting expertise in The Game: a full-size replica of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. He writes:

“My Sherlockian background includes Current Gasogene of the White Rose  Irregulars of York, PA, which I consider my ‘Home’ Scion. I regularly attend meetings of Watson’s Tin Box in Baltimore; The Denizens of the Bar of Gold in Cambridge, Md; and the Regency Irregulars of Phoenixville, PA.  I have most
recently attended meetings of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore and The Epilogues
of Sherlock Holmes in Chatham, NJ.

I contributed a chapter to the BSI’s latest publication of its Manuscript Series-“The Wrong Passage,” and will have an article published next month in the Watson’s Tin Box annual publication, “Irene’s Cabinet”.

I am also a member of the Baker Street Builders, qualifying for membership by constructing a full size re-creation of the 221b Baker Street sitting room in my home in Reading, PA.  Some photos are available as a link to the White Rose Irregular webpage: ”  [Ed. note: You’ve GOT to see these!]

We look forward to hearing more about Denny’s sitting room recreation and period furnishings in issues of The Watsonian.

Robert Ryan, JHWS “Caesar”

Mr Ryan joins us from North London, England where he is a very successful and eclectic writer. His extensive biography is fascinating for its diversity:

Robert Ryan was born in Liverpool and moved south to attend university. He graduated from Brunel with a M.Sc. in Environmental Pollution Science, intending to go into teaching. Instead, he spent two years as a mechanic for a Hot Rod team, racing highly tuned Fords (“the fag-end of motorsport”, as Bernie
Ecclestone calls it) where he became addicted to the smell of Castrol R. Weaning
himself off that, he became a lecturer in Natural Sciences in Kent, while dabbling in journalism. His articles on comic (or graphic novels as they were just becoming known) gurus Alan Moore and Frank Miller found their way into Nick Logan’s The Face magazine, which led to work for the American edition of GQ, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Telegraph and Arena.

Eventually he took a position on staff at The Sunday Times as Deputy Travel
Editor. It was while on assignment in Seattle that he came across the setting
for his first novel, Underdogs – the ‘lost’ city beneath the sidewalks of downtown – that was called ‘Alice in Wonderland meets Assault on Precinct 13’ by Esquire.

While learning to play the trumpet for his third book, Trans Am, Ryan met Guy
Barker, who, as well as being a great jazz trumpeter, had worked with Anthony
Mingella, notably on “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Guy read Underdogs and wrote a
‘theme’ for the book, which opened his Mercury-nominated album Soundtrack.
‘Underdogs’ eventually became a fifty-minute suite, featuring extracts from the
book read by RSC actor Anthony Higgins (most recently seen in Michael Dibdin’s
‘Zen’ on BBC), and was performed at The Barbican and the Brecon Jazz Festival
and filmed by the BBC.

Ryan’s next book, Early One Morning, broke into The Sunday Times’ top ten
bestsellers’ list, and began a sequence of historical dramas set in the 20th

He collaborated again with Barker on “dZf,” a film noir-ish reworking of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which had its World Premiere at Wakefield Rugby Club and its final outing, twenty performances later, in Hong Kong. It was narrated by actor Michael Brandon (“Jerry Springer The Opera,” “Dempsey and Makepeace,” and “Captain America”) and is available on Guy’s double CD, “The Amadeus Project.”

Ryan’s previous book, Signal Red, a novel based on “The Great Train Robbery,” has been optioned by World Pictures and the writing-production team behind the TV drama United, starring David Tennant.

His latest novel, Dead Man’s Land (Simon & Schuster) takes Dr John Watson
to the Western Front of WW1, where he has to solve a crime without the benefit
of his old colleague Sherlock Holmes.

He continues to contribute to The Sunday Times and is working on further jazz
projects with Guy Barker. He lives in North London with his wife, three children, a dog and a deaf cat.

The Society looks forward to Robert’s contributions to The Watsonian and to the furtherance of Dr Watson’s place in the literature.

J. Randolph Cox, JHWS “Champ”

We await Mr Cox’s biography and will expand upon it when received.

Bill Mason, JHWS “Billy”

Bill Mason of Green brier, TN, is the author of Pursuing Sherlock Holmes, a collection of essays and sketches collected from among his articles and conference presentations in the U.S. and Canada. He has been an enthusiastic Sherlockian since age 13 when his mother gave him a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He is the Founder of The Fresh Rashers of Nashville, and his writing has appeared in The Baker Street Journal, Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Muse, Beaton’s Christmas Annual, and others.

Mr Mason is retired from government service as an employee of the U.S. Congress and the White House. He is presenting at the 2013 Minneapolis Sherlockian conference.

How delightful to welcome these six accomplished Watsonians and Holmesians/Sherlockians into Charter Membership.