Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Irregular Detective #1
Published by Severn House on June 6, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
The first in a gripping new Victorian mystery series set in London from critically acclaimed author Jeri Westerson.
Watch out, Sherlock! Introducing one-time Baker Street Irregular Timothy Badger and his partner-in-crime Benjamin Watson, two exciting and unconventional young consulting detectives, mentored by the great man himself, tackling intriguing and unusual cases in Victorian London with endearing verve and wit.
Sherlock Holmes's protégés Tim Badger and Benjamin Watson are catapulted into a tricky first case when a man is brutally murdered during a séance.
London, 1895. Former Baker Street Irregular Tim Badger is determined to follow in the footsteps of his great mentor, Sherlock Holmes, by opening his own consulting detective agency with his partner, Benjamin Watson. The intrepid duo are ready to make a name for themselves . . . if only they had clients!
Their luck changes when Sherlock recommends his protégés to Thomas Brent. Brent is eager to find out who killed his master, Horace Quinn, during a séance at Quinn's house. What was Quinn desperately trying to find out from his deceased business partner, Stephen Latimer, before he was stabbed through the heart?
It seems that everyone in Quinn's household had a reason to want him dead. Can Tim and Benjamin step out of Sherlock's shadow to navigate dark secrets and unexpected dangers in their pursuit of a cold-blooded killer?
Sherlock Holmes was such a towering figure of investigative genius that it takes not one but two men to even think of stepping into his shoes. Someday, when they’ve got a little more experience under their belts and are a bit more confident in their ability to even hold a clue-seeking magnifying glass up to the ‘Great Detective’s’ bootprints.
Once upon a time, and not all that long ago in the year 1895, Tim Badger was one of the many street urchins that Holmes employed as his Baker Street Irregulars, beginning in Holmes’ very first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, back in 1881.
In 1881, the Irregulars were all children – or at most teens. Inevitably, they grew up. Well, some of them at least, as the game afoot on the streets of London in the late 19th century in their circumstances was that of survival of the fittest – and the Irregulars all entered that game with the deck stacked against them.
But it’s not a surprise that one of those survivors would outgrow the Irregulars with a talent for detection and the same burning need that drove their mentor Holmes, a desire to make a living by righting wrongs and pursuing criminals. Even though there are better ways to make a living and the odds are still stacked against them.
Tim Badger is just one of those ragamuffin boys who has aged out of being invisible and now has to make a living for himself. He’s chosen to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, with the assistance of his very own Watson. But unlike Holmes’ Dr. Watson, Mr. Benjamin Watson is in every bit the same poverty-stricken circumstances as Badger.
Ben Watson is a young black man with a penchant for chemistry and an oddly assorted collection of surprisingly useful odd jobs in his past. A past that isn’t nearly as checkered as Badger’s.
Their first big case is a desperate one, and so are they, even though they’re handed that case on Holmes’ silver salver, for reasons that Badger and Watson have yet to determine. Holmes claims he’s too busy, but that’s pure balderdash and Badger knows it. For Holmes the case would be easy as pie, but for the two fledgling detectives in a race to prove that a young man was wrongfully accused of murdering his employer – it’s the chance of a lifetime.
Or the end of more lives than just their client’s, including, quite possibly, their own.
Escape Rating A-: Surprisingly and delightfully, The Isolated Séance is a story of Sherlock Holmes, of all people, paying it forward – in spite of that phrase not being in common parlance until more than a century later.
As a way of making the leap from Holmes himself to a ‘new generation’ it’s an excellent way of shifting the focus of this Holmes pastiche from the great man to a couple of young men just getting their start – as Holmes and his Watson were when they first took rooms together at 221b.
We get just enough of a glimpse of Badger and Watson’s original circumstances to see just how much the two young men are in over their heads when Holmes steps in and gives them not just a case but an astonishing hand up in their attempts to follow the path he has already broken and solve a case that is every bit as convoluted as anything Holmes himself took on.
Holmes calls his starting grant to them an investment in his legacy, and so it proves. It also helps kick the story into a higher gear as it removes many of the external impediments to their possible success, giving both the characters and the reader a chance to focus on those impediments that are inherent to the case itself and to their maturity – or rather its lack. Particularly in Badger’s case.
(Although both men are very young, Watson’s circumstances as a black man in a city that is prejudiced against him at every turn gives him a bit of caution and maturity that Badger sadly lacks. Watson’s perspective as someone who will always be considered an outsider even before he opens his mouth reminds this reader of the relationship between a young Mycroft Holmes and the more mature Cyrus Douglas in Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Mycroft Holmes series. Please consider this a readalike recommendation as the Jabbar series is marvelous.)
The case itself is a farrago of mysterious circumstances, wild conjectures, police intractability and mistaken identity from its murderous beginning in the midst of a seance to its tragic, justly unjust ending. Elements which are present in much of Holmes’ canonical casebook as well.
But the way that Badger and Watson come to their solution – and wrestle with their consciences along the way – stands on its own merits. As do they. I look forward to watching their career continue in the second book in this series, The Mummy of Mayfair, hopefully this time next year!