Test of the Professionals I: The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon
by Marcia Wilson
MXPublishing (December 2016)
273 p. ISBN 9781787050297
Lestrade panted, getting to his feet as the gang of Cheathams fell back. “Right now I can think of worse things than rescue by an amateur detective.”
“My dear Lestrade, we’re simply ensuring the fight is fair.” Sherlock Holmes somehow dissuaded the truth of that by the way his lips were coiling up at the edges (without letting go of the pipe in his teeth). Perhaps it was because he was clearly in disguise as a seedy deckhand in Dutchman’s sailing clothes.
From behind him the little professional could see Dr. Watson, tarred like a sailor and armed with a wicked-looking blackthorn.
“Well, then!” Lestrade crowed with his fist up and parallel to the looming swarm over the tavern. “Who is next?”
The second in Marcia Wilson’s series about Scotland Yard (the first being You Buy Bones, a book all Watsonians should look into because of its focus on Watson), The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon does not disappoint. This is a book that is clearly setting up for a series, a possibly a lengthy one, given that it begins in the early 1880s and gives us a glimpse at Moriarty and his maneuvers from the get-go.
The story focuses on Lestrade, and does incredibly well by him. He is depicted as competent above all else, with his approach to policework being less about the mind (such as Gregson and Holmes) and more about getting out and finding evidence. It is the difference between, if I may borrow from another book series, a Hufflepuff and a Ravenclaw- both approaches are useful, just different. Lestrade is granted a dignity he so often lacks in other stories, as is the rest of Scotland Yard. We have a number of Canon Inspectors and Constables appear and each of them has a unique personality and history that is consistent with what we see of them in the original stories. We also get a look at what policing in the 1880s was like, and suddenly it becomes clear both why Holmes doesn’t want to be a Yarder and why the Yard needs someone like Holmes from time to time. The thanklessness of being a policeman isn’t shied away from, even as we see our Inspectors doing their best to do right.
The mystery itself has multiple parts. We meet a new villain, who is sincerely awful and has a history with Lestrade. We have several different cases that the Yarders are working on, which come together in various ways, making it a fun read as you try to decide which cases are connected, if any, and how they are all connected. The author makes a point of setting up Moriarty as potentially involved in some way at the start of the book, making it as much about the Yarders as it is about the construction and unveiling of Moriarty’s Empire- something I am VERY excited to read about.
The lives and personalities of the Canon characters are perfection, but we also have a number of amazing original characters as well that weave together with familiar ones to create a full and rich world. The Cheatham family as a whole will intrigue anyone who enjoys complicated family dynamics; our new villain is quietly, charmingly frightening; and most importantly, we meet a new heroine, who is very worthy of joining the pantheon of Holmesian Heroines. Clea Cheatham is clever, hardworking, tough, and yet achingly vulnerable at various points in the novel.
Another thing I enjoyed had nothing to do with the writing or the story, but the illustrations. The author herself drew little pictures for the start of each chapter, as well as a full portrait at the very beginning of the book of members of the Yard. The illustrations are utterly charming, and truly add to the experience of the book.
Though the novel has a number of editing issues that sometimes detract from ones enjoyment, The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon isn’t one to miss. And if you don’t trust my word, trust our own “Marker,” David Marcum, who is quoted as saying “Marcia Wilson has discovered Scotland Yard’s Tin Dispatch Box” on the back of the book- high praise!
What About Our Watson?
While Watson isn’t as present in this book as he is in Wilson’s previous published work, he is still very much a part of this story. The Yarders like and appreciate Watson, and in many ways would prefer to consult with him rather than Holmes. He is the Yarders’ preferred doctor, whenever possible, because of his professionalism and willingness to be discrete. Watson is shown, however, to be more than just a professional associate; he is shown to be friendly with them, in particular Lestrade, who he sometimes visits for social reasons rather than medical or professional ones. The rapport they share is comfortable and warm, and it makes for interesting insights into who Watson is.
Watson is shown to contribute meaningfully to Holmes’ work as well, as Holmes defers to Watson’s medical expertise and values his insights. He is with Holmes throughout the investigation, even, at one point, dressed in a truly hilarious disguise that Holmes gave to him. He is deeply loyal to Holmes- sometimes frustratingly so, from the Yarders’ perspective, as he won’t tell tales out of school about Holmes- and their friendship is often reflected on by other characters, who don’t quite understand it but respect it all the same.
If a Watsonian decides to pick up this book, I would still recommend that you read You Buy Bones first, both for the continuity between the two and for the amount of Watson you’ll encounter, but this book will not disappoint if you want a good, capable, heroic Watson.
You Might Like This Book If You Like:
Canon Scotland Yard characters; lots of historical details; Moriarty machinations; workplace stories