Dr Watson’s Library

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!

IQ (Book Review)


by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books (October 2016)
336 p. ISBN 9780316267724

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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.

What About Our Watson?

 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.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Noir; urban settings; LA; rap music; new interpretations on canon

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!  Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Book Review)

A Conspiracy in Belgravia

by Sherry Thomas
Berkley (September 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780425281413

Publisher’s Summary

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?

General Review

 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.

What About Our Watson?

 Which one?

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?

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Victorian women protagonists; series long mysteries; family dramas; pastries

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1 (Book Review)

The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1

by J.B. Djian (Author), Olivier Legrand (Author), David Etien (Illustrator)
Insight Comics (May 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608878789

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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!

What About Our Watson?

 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.)

You Might Like This If You Like:

Graphic novels; art; darker and sadder depictions of Victorian England

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

From Holmes to Sherlock (Book Review)

From Holmes to Sherlock

by Mattias Bostrom
Mysterious Press (August 2017)
544 p. ISBN 9780802126603

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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.

What About Our Watson?

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.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

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!

Elementary, She Read (Book Review)

Elementary, She Read

by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (March 2017)
320 p. ISBN 9781683310969

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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!

What About Our Watson?

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.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Cozy mysteries; romances; bookshops; small town communities

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

The Last of August (Book Review)

The Last of August

by Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegan Books (February 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780062398949

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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.

What About Our Watson?

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.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

YA romance; BBC Sherlock; James Bond

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

The Baker Street Peculiars (Book Review)

The Baker Street Peculiars

by Roger Langridge and Andy Hirsch
kaBoom! (January 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608869282

Publisher’s Summary

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.

General Review

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.

What About Our Watson?

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.

You Might Like This If You Like:

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!

The Great Shelby Holmes (Book Review)

[The recent review of The Great Shelby Holmes posted by Elise Elliot (JHWS “Lucy”) piqued Chips’s interest. He read the book and shares his thoughts here. -Selena Buttons]

Cover image of The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth EulbergI love to read books that capture my attention and bring me into the book’s world. This book did that. I have friends who believe my world is the world of nine-year-old Shelby Holmes and her 11-year-old companion-to-be, John Watson. And they are right.

I was at the point of wanting a story to remember in, and this is one. My growing up years were not in New York. I come from a totally different background.

This book drew me in just like in the adult Canon. I became 11 year old John Watson and had a great time. I experienced how to accept and be a friend.

The mystery does resemble one from the Canon and is done well. I felt refreshed and ready to read the next one that I hope will follow.

So, to all 11-year-olds and 9-year-olds, you will like this story. Be prepared to explain it to all the adults who ask you to read this story to them. I hope you find the ones who are half Men and Women and still half Boys and Girls. The rest do not count.


Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

by Tim Symonds
MXPublishing (November 2016)
358p. ISBN 9781787050358

Publisher’s Summary

It’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it. But are the assassins targeting the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his imperious aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? The murder of either could spark a civil war. The fate of China and the interests of Britain’s vast Empire in the Orient could be at stake. Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City.

General Summary

Unlike several of the reviews I’ve written for the Society so far, this book (which was sent to me by the author, Tim Symonds) features a Holmesian story much like the ones in the Canon.  Watson is the narrator, Holmes and his case are the focus, and it takes place in the era that the Canon was originally set.  This will, I am sure, make a number of Society members very happy.

The story, as noted in the publisher’s summary, takes place in 1906 and is firmly set during the Retirement Era.  Holmes is away in Sussex with his bees, while Watson tends to his practice.  It becomes clear from the get go that Watson is rather bored without the stimulation of his friend’s cases.  It is hardly surprising, then, that when approached by General Yuan for his help in developing a company of Chinese army medics, he leaps at the chance.

The book is steeped in historical detail which many readers will find incredibly rich.  The author meticulously notes the ephemera of the Edwardian era, such as ads and brands and the popular fashions of the time.  It does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re there, standing next to Watson.  When the narrative moves to China, the historical details do not end, and you’ll find yourself discovering a plethora of fascinating information.

The mystery is complex and knotty, and will satisfy anyone who has a fondness for royal dramas.  It was difficult to work out in advance, as no one is telling the full truth.  It also moves incredibly swiftly, moving from action to action to action, and it will certainly keep you engaged.

The Chinese characters, while occasionally steeped in unfortunate stereotypes both historic and modern, were as complex as the plot itself.  The Empress Dowager and the Emperor are, in particular, fully examined and have a plethora of emotions and motivations.  The Empress Dowager in particular was incredibly complicated character to understand, which is not necessarily surprising, given her role in history and the diversity of opinion on her rule.  Because the book primarily takes place in China, there are very few Canon characters who appear, but Mycroft shows off his role as The British Government as well, in a way that will certainly make Mycroft fans grin.

Canon was referenced throughout, and one can tell that Watson feels a bit nostalgic for the Good Ol’ Days, but it also serves to show just how deep the history between Holmes and Watson runs.  There is an easy camaraderie between the two that demonstrates the close friendship, and how quickly they can fall into old routines and patterns, despite the physical distance between them most of the time.

For anyone who likes a more traditional Holmesian romp, with an emphasis on investigation and friendship, this will certainly appeal!

What About Our Watson?

Watson is very much the central character in this story.  Even though it was Holmes that ultimately solves the mystery, it is Watson who drives the action and provides all the relevant clues.  As it is said in Canon, he is a conductor of light.

Delightfully, this story begins with Watson, not Holmes, being approached by a Chinese general who wants his help.  The General wants him to help build a company of medics in the Chinese military.  Although this explanation deflates a little bit later on, Watson provides a great deal of information and suggestions to the General, taking his job very seriously.

Watson also serves as a confidant to a number of people.  They tell him their problems with ease, as well as their secrets.  It is this quality of Watson, his unobtrusiveness, concern, and compassion, that provide him with so much information necessary for Holmes to solve the mystery.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the first-person narrative is perhaps a little distant, and so we don’t get to know a great deal of how Watson feels about the things he’s hearing and experiencing.  I would have loved to know more about his internal life throughout this book.  But he is a solid Watson, and I look forward to seeing this author’s other works.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Court intrigues; travelogues; Shakespeare; the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!

The Women of Baker Street (Book Review)

The Women of Baker Street

by Michelle Birkby
Pan Books (February 2017)
368 p. ISBN 9781509809738

Publisher’s Summary

As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London …When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors? Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women’s investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent’s Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.

General Review

I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book, having thoroughly enjoyed its predecessor, The House at Baker Street.  Knowing that sequels can occasionally be a cause of disappointment, I tempered my expectations before I cracked open the spine (or, rather, digital copy- the hardcopy is not readily available in the US yet, and so while awaiting the arrival of my hardcopy, I went ahead and bought a second copy on my Nook) and settled in to find out what Mary Watson and Mrs. Hudson were up to now.

I needn’t have worried.  The Women of Baker Street is an excellent follow-up and, in some ways, is better than the first in the series.

The book wastes no time in getting us into the mystery.  With an incredibly creepy and ominous opening that sets the stage for what is to come, we are soon hurried through the circumstances of Mrs. Hudson’s illness.  Perhaps too hurried- I myself would have enjoyed some fussing over Mrs. Hudson by Watson and Holmes- but having read the whole book now, I can see why the author didn’t linger much over her actual moment of collapse.

Soon we are introduced to a truly eclectic and strange group of women who share the ward with Mrs. Hudson while she recuperates.  In the first book there were some truly fine original characters, but it largely focused on fleshing out the Canon characters.  Here, though, we meet eight new women in quick succession.  I worried I would have trouble keeping them all straight, and for perhaps a page or two I did.  But every woman has her own personality and her own mystery, so they soon became their own people and any confusion dried up quickly.  In fact, I found myself wanting to learn the full story about every single woman, and was captivated by their mysteries.

If secrets was the theme of the first book, haunting is the theme of this one.  Every single person in the book, including Mrs. Hudson and Holmes, is haunted by the spectral presence of their past.  It is these hauntings that drive the mysteries encountered.  At times the hauntings are simply heartbreaking; in other cases, dark and ominous.  Mrs. Hudson’s haunting was, I thought, the most effective, in part because she is our POV character, but also because the actions she took in the previous book took a toll on her.  Watching her struggle with the conclusion of the previous book is heart-wrenching, but also satisfying.  It is an easy thing to make a character accept their actions and move on; it is quite another to have a character grapple with them and force themselves to reexamine what they’ve done.  I loved watching Mrs. Hudson struggle, and particularly loved the help she received along the way, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.

The theme of haunting is present in the overall atmosphere of the book as well.  It really was quite creepy at times, with certain scenes driving me to set down the book for a moment so I could take a breath.  There are moments of terror for the characters, and the writing was done so well that I found myself caught up in it all.

While the first book meandered occasionally, with flashbacks to Mrs. Hudson’s life before Baker Street, or providing little glimpses into shared histories and moments, this book is more firmly a mystery novel.  And it is an excellent mystery, incredibly twisty, with multiple suspects and a horrifying conclusion.  I was very much impressed in how the two separate mysteries were handled by the author; both were given roughly the same amount of focus, but at no point did I feel lost or like something was missing.  When the mysteries wove together, it was incredibly organic, with everything clicking into place naturally.  As a warning, it is also a very dark story, so if you prefer lighter mysteries, this may not be something you enjoy.  I, however, loved it.

With this book being more of an actual mystery novel, it is tempting to read it before the first one, which has elements of a character study.  However, I would advise that this isn’t a standalone book.  You will likely find yourself lost if you don’t read the first in the series, because while Women of Baker Street has a much more straightforward narrative, it also very much references and relies on threads that were set up in The House at Baker Street.

Once you finish this book, I fully anticipate you will be eager for the next.  Not to worry- I have already pestered the author on twitter, and she believes it should be out in early 2018.

What About Our Watson?

Much as in the first book of the series, this book provides us with two Watsons to examine, John Watson and Mary Watson.

It is Watson who, in some ways, helps set the stage for the case, for it is Watson who uses his connections to get Mrs. Hudson into the private ward.  He appears primarily as a doctor, stopping in to check on Mrs. Hudson, but we also discover that he’s assisting a young woman nurse in her studies to become a doctor, and is also helping Mary learn about anatomy and physiology.  He is an incredibly supportive husband to Mary, and I truly adore the ongoing depictions of their life together.  The hints we get in Canon about their relationship are brought more into the open, and they’re wonderful to behold.

Mary herself is much the spitfire we met in the first book, though she is clearly growing.  She has enlisted her husband to teach her more about the body so she can approach cases with more information, and though she still has a reckless streak, she’s more willing to listen when Mrs. Hudson tells her to slow down.  Mary is so passionate and brave, it’s impossible not to love her, and it’s easy to see why she and John Watson are such a perfect match.  Interestingly, she becomes quite obsessed with about her own case, the mystery of the missing street boys, in such a way that makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder if there isn’t something else going on with Mary…

The Watsons in this book will not disappoint, though if you are strictly a John Watson fan, you may wish he had more time on the page.  But as this book is about Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson, it is hardly surprising that he takes a backstage role.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Hospital dramas; tragedies; psychological horror; relationships between women

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!