Dr Watson’s Library

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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.

-Chips

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!

The Whole Art of Detection (Book Review)

The Whole Art of Detection

by Lyndsay Faye
Mysterious Press (March 2017)
388 p. ISBN 9780802125927

Publisher’s Summary

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.

Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

General Review

Having been a fan of Faye’s work since she published Dust and Shadow, I expected to enjoy this book, and was thrilled to receive an ARC from NetGalley.  What I did not expect was just how MUCH I enjoyed the book.  Faye has a grasp of Watson and Holmes’ partnership that few authors manage to bring to life on the page in quite the same way.  Here we see playful teasing, uproarious arguments, protectiveness and fondness, and a way of interacting that can only come about from decades of knowing each other.

The book is divided into four sections: Before Baker Street, in which Holmes or Watson tell a story to one another about a case they had before they met; The Early Years, which all take place before the Hiatus; The Return, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Hiatus; and The Later Years, which cover the years leading up to Holmes’ retirement.

Before Baker Street will bring to mind Gloria Scott and Musgrave Ritual.  Even though either Holmes or Watson is absent from the mystery, however, they are very present within the story itself, either interjecting questions or asides, commenting on the action, or needing to take a break in order to adjust a blanket or eat some food.  If one looks at Gloria Scott or Musgrave Ritual and misses Watson, then that shouldn’t be a concern here.  He also presents his own case to Holmes, in a delightful turn of events.

The Early Years gives us four cases in which we explore the tentative beginnings to the friendship between Watson and Holmes.  Faye is very aware that these stories take place before they were truly comrades-in-arms the way we think of them, and so she shows the gradual blossoming of their friendship as we go through.  We are shown here vulnerable and deeply compassionate sides to Holmes, while Watson’s pawky humor comes through quite clearly, as well as his bravery and willingness to pursue justice.  My favourite story in the entire collection, the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, is in this section.  This story takes place during HOUN, while Holmes is still in London, and is drawn entirely from Holmes’ journal entries… in which he rambles about Watson, rants about Watson, and worries about Watson.  If you’ve ever wondered just how Holmes feels about Watson, or worried that he didn’t value the friendship, this story will put such fears to rest.  It is a gem.

The Return, with most stories all taking place immediately after EMPT, focuses on the consequences of Holmes’ actions, and is possibly the bleakest of the four sections.  The first story in the group is heart wrenching, with Mary Watson having just died and Watson not knowing what to do anymore.  In the other stories, Holmes and Watson have to work through the emotional quandaries that arose from the Hiatus and, in The Willow Basket, we get to see just what Lestrade’s take on the whole thing is.  Despite this being perhaps the saddest section, it is still immensely satisfying, and really gives weight to the Hiatus as a whole.

The Later Years feature your classic pastiches, with the focus truly being on the cases themselves.  At this point, Holmes and Watson have largely sorted out any rocky patches in their friendship, and these are some of the years Watson claimed Holmes was at the height of his powers in Canon; the mysteries are, suitably, excellent.

Most of the stories in this collection feature an A plot, which focuses on the mysteries at hand, and a B plot, examining a facet of the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  If the mysteries are at times predictable, it is the B plots that make this book a standout.  It is an amazing collection, and you will want to have it on your shelf.

What About Our Watson?

The Watson that appears here is everything a good Watson should be: he’s loyal, he’s clever, he’s an excellent doctor, he’s brave and resolute, he’s funny, and he’s protective.  The stories are told in a classic pastiche style, very reminiscent of Canon, but we are lucky here in that Watson isn’t edited out as much.  He doesn’t come back into the story just to ask a question so that Holmes will explain something; instead, he is as much a part of the process of detective work as Holmes himself.  His medical experience is featured heavily in these stories, in particular as Holmes’ doctor.  Two stories, Colonel Warburton’s Madness and An Empty House feature Watson alone, with very little Holmes, and so we get experience a slightly difference view on him, unrelated to case work.

Perhaps the two best stories, however, for showcasing our Watson are the two stories that are drawn from Holmes’ notes.  These are not done in the style of Lion’s Mane or Blanched Soldier, with Holmes attempting to write his own story.  Instead, these are unfiltered, raw Holmes, straight from his journals, and so the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma and The Diadem Club Affair show us exactly how Holmes sees his friend, and, more importantly, gives us an unedited view on what Watson is truly like, without his authorial hand adjusting things.  Watson is steadfast and gentle, brave and bullheaded, sarcastic and intelligent.  It’s a brilliant portrayal, and immensely satisfying for a Watsonian.

You Might Like This If You Like:

Bert Coules radio dramas; friendship stories; the tin box mysteries with new plots; classic pastiche collections

Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma (Book Review)

Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma

by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press (February 2017)
240 p. ISBN 9781517900861

Publisher’s Summary

Dogged by depression, doubt, and—as a trip to the Mayo Clinic has revealed—emphysema, 66-year-old Sherlock Holmes is preparing to return to England when he receives a shock: a note slipped under his hotel room door, from a vicious murderer he’d nearly captured in Munich in 1892. The murderer, known as the Monster of Munich, announces that he has relocated to Eisendorf, a tiny village near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

If Holmes is not what he once was, the same can be said for Eisendorf: once a thriving community founded by German idealists but now a dying town with only forty residents—two of whom have, indeed, died recently under highly mysterious circumstances. Replete with all the gothic richness of Larry Millett’s earlier Holmes novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma links events in 1892 Germany with those in small-town Minnesota in 1920 in a double mystery that tests the aging detective’s mettle—and the reader’s nerve—as never before.

Guided by Eisendorf’s peculiar archivist and taunted by the Monster, Holmes finds himself drawn into the town’s dark history of violence and secrecy, and into the strange tunnels that underscore the old flour mill where answers, and grievous danger, lie in wait. No longer the cool, flawless logician of times past, Holmes must nonetheless match wits with a fiendish opponent who taunts him right up to a final, explosive confrontation.

General Review

Taking place during the Retirement Years, even past World War I, Eisendorf Enigma is a fun, fast-paced mystery.  I was very excited when NetGalley sent me an ARC of Millett’s latest Sherlock Holmes novel- growing up, his novels were some of the first pastiches I encountered- and I’m deeply grateful to them for the opportunity to read this book in advance and comment on it.

The story begins quickly, almost abruptly, with the reader being introduced to several things at once, including Holmes’ illness and his history in Munich, before we find ourselves in Eisendorf itself, meeting our cast of suspects.  Eisendorf is a miniscule German village in Minnesota, and it’s layered in secrets.  It is fascinating to see Holmes attempt to tease out information from people when literally everyone he meets lies to him or misdirects him, and the only records he can consult are written by the same people who are lying to him.  Although the book starts very quickly, it soon adjusts to a slower, more measured pace that absolutely suits the very Southern Gothic atmosphere of this book.  We spend a great deal of time meeting the inhabitants of the town, few as they are, and learning the history and the founding of Eisendorf.  In between these moments, we flash back to 1892 Munich, when Holmes first encountered the serial killer known as the Monster.  The two stories are woven together well, each contributing new insights to the other.

Millett has always been phenomenal at writing eccentrics (many familiar with the series will well remember Shadwell Rafferty, who dominated Millett’s later books; while Rafferty appears in this book, he is not a main character), and it shines through here.  Eisendorf is full of strange people.  There’s the archivist, who notes down every detail of the town and whom Holmes cannot unravel; the young woman with a childish spirit who wears angel wings and claims to know secrets; the recluse who threatens Holmes whenever they meet; the outcast whose actions during World War I endangered much of the town; the town leader and his wife, who make for an odd pair; and the widow, that Holmes finds captivating.  The secondary characters are delightful, and it is enjoyable trying to sort out which among them may have a motive and committed the crimes Holmes is investigating.

Millett’s descriptions are lush and rich, and anyone who likes to craft a good visual in their head will appreciate his attention to detail with the setting.  Minnesota is a beautiful place, and the author’s descriptions create a written picture that will match any photos you pull up on the Internet or in a book.

The first two-thirds of the book are from a third-person perspective, following Holmes, which could be disconcerting for readers used to Watson’s first-person perspective.  Thankfully, in the last third of the book, we return to what we are used to.  The first part of the book is still well done, however, if occasionally too willing to repeat internal thoughts of Holmes’ that don’t need to be stated with such frequency.

It’s a charming, quick book, and I enjoyed it immensely.  I hope Millett will consider writing more works in this timeline, one rarely explored by pastiche writers.  It would be lovely to have a set of books that focus on the cases of Holmes and Watson, well past retirement and post-World War I.

What About Our Watson?

For a while, I feared I would have little to report on the Watson front.  The first two-thirds of the book feature Holmes by himself, without any of his usual allies or friends, in Eisendorf.  I was fully prepared to write about the occasional affectionate thoughts that Holmes has for Watson, and to note that his brief appearance at the beginning is pleasant, if unsatisfying for the dedicated Watsonian.

Thankfully, however, Watson makes a heroic entrance towards the end, and while he doesn’t get to contribute much in the solving of the mystery, his personality comes through in spades.  Watson rushes off to America, leaving his irate second wife behind (the second Mrs. Watson is not well liked by Holmes, or the author it would seem) in order to get to Holmes’ side.  He is shown to be an excellent doctor, whose medical opinion Holmes trusts above all others, and is quick to follow through on Holmes’ strange requests.  His sarcastic humor comes out at the most unexpected times, much to my amusement.

While there isn’t as much Watson content as I would like, when Watson is there, he is very recognizably Watson.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Minnesota; small town histories; Southern Gothic mysteries; ruminations on age and illness

Test of the Professionals I: The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon (Book Review)


Test of the Professionals I: The Adventure of the Flying Blue Pidgeon

by Marcia Wilson
MXPublishing (December 2016)
273 p. ISBN 9781787050297

 

Publisher’s Summary

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?”

General Summary

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

The House at Baker Street (Book Review)

The House at Baker Street

by Michelle Birkby
Pan Macmillan (February 2016)
352p. ISBN 9781509807222.

Publisher’s Summary

When Sherlock Holmes turns down the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson – the landlady of Baker Street – and Mary Watson – the wife of Dr Watson – resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of 221b, the two women begin their inquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.

A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the fearsome Ripper supposedly still stalks. They soon discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk – the lives of many others are in danger too.

As Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson put together the pieces of an increasingly complex puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can they solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?

General Review

The House at Baker Street may easily be one of the strongest pastiches that came out in 2016, and it’s certainly my favorite. It tells the story of Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson making the choice to take on the role of detective after Mr Holmes rejects a client they feel needs help. It is a simple enough premise, but one executed to great effect in this book.

The story is told from Mrs Hudson’s POV, and the narrative is occasionally meandering, occasionally wandering, and brings to mind a story not written down as a book but rather one she is speaking out loud. The writing style makes you feel as though you’re sitting at Mrs Hudson’s bedside, hearing her confess the secrets of her life, the things she’s never been able to bring herself to say before now.

And the secrets are a major theme in this book. The mystery itself, a somewhat straightforward case of blackmail (with a few twists), is naturally all about secrets: the secrets of the victimized women, the secrets of the blackmailer’s assistants, and the secrets of the blackmailers themselves. But what’s particularly lovely about this book are the secrets that aren’t actually tied to the mystery (which does sometimes become a plodding, ponderous thing, though not so much that it hurt my enjoyment of this book).

There are the secrets that Holmes and Watson keep from Mrs Hudson and Mary, the secrets of their clients and cases. There are the secrets that our heroines keep from the men, both personal and in the course of their own case. Most interesting to me are the secrets of Canon introduced to the reader, such as how Holmes and Mrs Hudson met, or how Mrs Hudson took the news that Mary and John were to marry. If you’ve ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of the Canon, this book offers up a number of fascinating suggestions.

There is also the secret Mrs Hudson withholds from the story, one that she hints at throughout the book. It’s a secret most Holmesians can easily discern, knowing as we do how the Canon goes, but seeing how this author will execute it keeps this reader, at least, feeling both excitement and dread for the books still to come in this series.

Mrs Hudson is a phenomenal protagonist, a woman who has always desired adventure and excitement and instead found herself creating what life she could on a heap of disappointments, satisfying herself by listening at the air vent to the cases that come to Holmes and Watson. She is a smart woman, and deeply compassionate – her relationship with the Irregulars is one of the strongest parts of this book – and she makes an excellent detective in the end, though it takes her a while to reach her conclusions. She doubts herself at times, and wonders what she’s doing, but she is a natural observer and has a talent for seeing the big picture. She’s more hesitant and practical than Mary, but she is also fiercely loyal and brave, two traits which drive her throughout the story.

There is enormous affection for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, despite the narrative’s implicit criticism of Holmes’ seeming disregard for Mrs Shirley. Though both Mary and Mrs Hudson are disappointed in Holmes for doing so, he is never depicted as a villain or a cruel man, just a flawed one who sometimes cannot see beyond his own assumptions of the world. It’s a remarkably nuanced approach to Holmes, and one I’d love to see more of in other pastiches.

Many of the secondary characters drawn from Canon get a lovely treatment too. We get to know a number of Irregulars and see their own personal relationships with Mrs Hudson. There are Canonical antagonists, both infamous (as the publisher’s summary suggests) and less well known. While some readers may feel that the book packs too many Canonical characters in, I thought they all served a purpose and weren’t just there to show that the author knows her Canon. Rather, they are all given a rich personal life, and fit well within the themes of the book.

There is so much more that I want to mention and talk about in this review but can’t, for fear of spoilers. I truly adored this pastiche, and am very much looking forward to the sequel, which comes out in February of 2017, only two months from now!

What About Our Watson?

John Watson appears here as perfectly as one might hope. He is always haring off with Holmes, gun in hand, helping him with his current cases. He is shown as intensely loyal to Holmes, caring and respectful of Mary, and also as a kind and loyal friend to Mrs Hudson. We get to see him as a doctor on multiple occasions, and every time he is competent and comforting. He is also the ultimate secret keeper, in my opinion, as he finds a way to both keep and respect Mary’s secrets while protecting Holmes’ as well. He is an excellent partner, friend, and husband. Honestly, he just wins all the husband awards in this book. I wish more people would portray the marriage between Mary and Watson like this: affectionate, teasing, and full of implicit trust.

And then there’s Mary. While this Society is devoted to John H Watson, I decided that Mary Watson should be my focus when discussing the Watsonian aspects of this book. As it is written in the book, “If he loved her, she must be worth his loving.”

Mary Watson is an absolute gem, and is the best part of this book for me. She is truly the Mary Watson we meet in SIGN, so incredibly smart and adventurous and more than a match for John. Mary is the energy of our detective duo here, brimming with enthusiasm and passion for what they’re trying to do. Holmes himself credited Mary with “a decided genius” in SIGN, and it is on full display here. Her powers of deduction are less refined, but as she explains, she’s listened to enough of John’s stories to know the basics of applying the skills. She is also deeply compassionate and social, and her kindness often moves the case along as people instinctively open up to her (“birds to a lighthouse” indeed!).

That isn’t to say she’s shown as perfect. In fact, Mary is a bit reckless, horribly stubborn, and has a sharp and abrupt temper, all of which cause problems for her at different points. But it’s impossible not to love Mary, who so desperately wants to help, and who so desperately wants to be more than a housewife.

I will admit, I haven’t seen many depictions of Mary in pastiches. She’s often relegated to the side as having waved Watson off for his own adventures, if she’s a character in them at all. But other books will be hard-pressed to show me a stronger, fiercer Mary than this one. This is a Mary who is certainly worthy of John Watson – although here, I might instead say that Watson is worthy of this Mary. I am certainly looking forward to the next book and finding out how Mary handles their latest mystery.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Women Protagonists; Backstories and Character-Driven Stories; the Baker Street Babes Podcast; Examinations of Class and Gender in Victorian London

(Note from Selena Buttons: This review was supposed to appear last Thursday, but was delayed by technical difficulties. Apologies, Lucy!)

The Great Shelby Holmes (Book Review)

Note from Selena Buttons: We’re very excited to have a new book reviewer here in the Consulting Rooms. Please welcome Elise Elliot, JHWS “Lucy”!

greatshelbyholmes The Great Shelby Holmes

by Elizabeth Eulberg
Bloomsbury USA Childrens (September 2016)
128p. $16.99. ISBN 9781681190518.
Elise’s Rating: 4/5

Publisher’s Summary

Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen―always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

General Review

The Great Shelby Holmes is a super cute take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos. I thoroughly enjoyed the elements from the original canon that the author scattered throughout the book, as well as her willingness to adjust and change certain elements to better match her modern, child versions of the characters. The mystery was simplistic in its trappings (a dog show champion has gone missing), but had a number of potential villains with motives and opportunity which should entertain young readers as they follow along. Older readers (like myself!) should enjoy the whimsy of it all, because it’s truly a sweet version of a “Sherlock Holmes” mystery. The book also endeared itself to me because it was set in a realistic New York City; that is to say, there was a great deal of diversity in this book, reflecting the actual diversity of the city.

Shelby Holmes is a lovely character. She is a bit of an oddball and doesn’t make friends easily- though it’s wonderful to see her rocky attempts to do so. This is a Holmes that WANTS to be friends with people, but isn’t entirely sure how one does that. She has an adorably pretentious way of speaking (which may grate on some people, but I found it realistic enough when compared to some of the kids I’ve worked with), and a nicely tense, but loving, relationship with her family. It will be interesting to see how she grows as a person over the course of the books, especially as she has shown a (grudging) willingness to follow Watson’s lead when it comes to interacting with people.

I enjoyed this book, overall, and I’m really hoping the author has more planned for this series. It is such a promising beginning.

What About Our Watson?

Watson is the true delight in this book. Watson is our POV character (naturally), and while the book could be all about Shelby, given the title, it actually achieves a very nice balance between the two characters. Watson has his own objectives and concerns- he’s an army brat with recently divorced parents, in a new city, trying to make new friends. While he’s intrigued and curious about Shelby, he tries not to let her goals overwhelm and distract from his own.

This book introduced Watson to the art of observation and deduction, and showed him slowly learning the tricks and traits to become a detective and equal partner. Happily, the book didn’t decide to paint Watson as slower than Holmes; instead, it treated observation and deduction as a skill that Watson can learn, and we get to see him working at it. It’s a wonderful lesson for kids, as well as adults.

They gave some of canon Watson’s traits to his mother, which I personally thought was delightful (the fact that she’s in the military was the main one), but I thought it was clever and interesting to take some of the life-changing trauma that our canon Watson endured (the Afghanistan War) and transform it into the life-altering emotional upheaval of a recent divorce and subsequent estrangement from one parent. In this way, Eulberg’s Watson is still freshly wounded and grieving when he meets Holmes, just in a different way than Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson.

Watson is warm and kind, and I’m hoping he’ll get to spend more time contributing to the mysteries in future books, now that he’s beginning to learn how detectives think and work.

You Will Like This Book If You Like:

Middle reader books; Modern retellings; BBC Sherlock or Elementary; New York City; Dogs.