Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Singular Affair by M.K. Wiseman

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Singular Affair by M.K. WisemanSherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair by M.K. Wiseman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 200
Published by M.K. Wiseman on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Before Baker Street, there was Montague.
Before partnership with a former army doctor recently returned from Afghanistan, Sherlock Holmes had but the quiet company of his own great intellect. Solitary he might be but, living as he did for the thrill of the chase, it was enough.
For a little while, at the least, it was enough.
That is, until a client arrives at his door with a desperate plea and an invitation into a world of societal scandal and stage door dandies. Thrust deep in an all-consuming role and charged with the safe-keeping of another, Holmes must own to his limits or risk danger to others besides himself in this the case of the aluminium crutch.

My Review:

After last week’s marvelous book, I was looking for more Sherlock Holmes – as is often the case. So here we are with this little gem.

Many, it feels like most, Sherlock Holmes stories purport to be written by another, usually Dr. John H. Watson, and published by a third or fourth party. By presenting the story as being another person’s recollections and/or impressions of the Great Detective, while the reader is left thinking that they know what Holmes was “like”, what they really know is what the writer/observer “thought” Holmes was like.

As a writing device, it puts Holmes at one or more removes, as the writer imbues the character with his or her own slant on what Holmes thought and did, and then the reader slants that slant. Which fits fairly well with Holmes’ perception or presentation of himself as a thinking machine with few human emotions.

It’s also part of what makes the saying that “every generation has its Sherlock” so true, in that a 21st century author has the opportunity to fit Holmes into the writer’s time and place – as Conan Doyle himself did – or the reader’s time and place or any other in between depending on who is used as Holmes’ biographer/narrator.

This particular entry in the not-quite-canon of Holmes pastiches takes an entirely different tack. The Singular Affair that Holmes must deal with in this adventure occurred before he ever met Watson. Holmes is young – only 26 – and living alone on Montague Street in a flat that is in no way large enough to contain his experiments, his office, and himself.

In other words, his housekeeping is atrocious, there is no Mrs. Hudson in sight, and the tools of his trade have outgrown any and all possible housing for them in the space available. Or, in his present circumstances, affordable.

It allows us to see that Holmes already needs Watson, even if he doesn’t believe he will ever find someone who will be able to tolerate his work, his mess, his single-mindedness or himself with any degree of equanimity.

So Holmes is at the beginning of his career, just far enough along that his name opens many doors – and closes a few others. He has no one to serve as his amanuensis, so he tell the story himself.

But it is removed, as this story is in a manuscript that Dr. John H. Watson discovers amongst Holmes’ papers in the wake of the Great Detective’s death. It’s a story that Holmes tells, but one that he tells of his early career written at the end of his long and celebrated one.

And what a fascinating tale it is.

Escape Rating B: On the one hand, the story does its best to read as the kind of adventure that Watson so successfully wrote. It is chock full of desperate clients, misdirection, multiple identities and shady underworld connections as any Holmes’ fan might wish.

At the same time, it also includes a bit more feeling and not-quite-purple prose than one’s interpretation of Holmes would lead one to expect. The sort of prose and the sort of internal feelings that were part of Watson’s narration but aren’t as expected coming from Holmes’ own pen based on the interpretation of the man that we are familiar with from the pen of Watson.

(The author’s previous foray into Holmes pastiches, Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel, also foregoes the use of Watson as chronicler, but for an entirely different reason. if this author continues her chronicles of Holmes’ adventures we’ll see if this trend continues in any form. I hope we do.)

On yet another hand, the story is of Holmes’ own early days, when he was both a bit full of the false sense of immortality that we all are capable of at that age, while still more than occasionally being hit upside the head – sometimes literally – by the things he does not yet know or understand.

So the case, as his cases often do, starts out simple to the point of not seeming to be worth his time, only to end up nearly getting Holmes and the man he originally thought was the villain, killed.

It begins with a young woman who is certain that her childhood friend and correspondent has been abducted and that someone else has taken his place – even though everyone else tells her that she’s wrong. She’s not, of course, or Holmes wouldn’t have a case to follow.

But in the best Holmesian traditional mistaken identities and misdirection, she is also wrong. A conundrum that leads Holmes on a very wild goose chase indeed.

The game is afoot! Chasing after Sherlock Holmes as he chases after that game is as much fun as ever. I hope that we see more such tales from this author in the future.

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. WisemanSherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 214
Published by M.K. Wiseman on November 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

I am afraid that I, Sherlock Holmes, must act as my own chronicler in this singular case, that of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. For the way in which the affair was dropped upon my doorstep left me with little choice as to the contrary. Not twelve months prior, the siren’s call of quiet domesticity and married life had robbed me of Watson’s assistance as both partner and recorder of my cases. Thus, when detective inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard required a lead—any lead—I found myself forced to pursue Jack the Ripper alone and without the aid of my faithful friend. And all for the most damnedable of reasons:Early on in my investigations, Dr. John H. Watson, formerly of 221b Baker Street, emerged as my prime suspect.

My Review:

Jack the Ripper – whatever his real identity might have been – was most likely not the world’s first serial killer. But he lives in the popular imagination because his bloody spree happened at the dawn of the popular mass media as we know it today.

Between rising literacy, the increasing popularity of newspapers – including the gutter press – and the advent of the telegraph which provided the ability for words, for news to travel around the globe instantaneously, the Ripper murders in Whitechapel became the eye of a perfect storm.

Sensational news, an idea whose time had come but has STILL definitely not gone – and probably never will, combined with a series of absolutely gruesome deaths, an unsolved – still unsolved – mystery, and the ability for everyone who wanted to, pretty much everywhere, to read all about it nearly instantly turned Jack’s crimes into the kind of can’t print enough compulsive reading that has never ended.

Into that series of baffling mysteries at the very dawn of scientific detection, insert one Sherlock Holmes, who was at the forefront of that scientific detection and who, if he had been real and not fictional, would have been in his heyday as a consulting detective and would indubitably been dragged into the case – whether by Scotland Yard or by his compulsion to solve the unsolvable.

In this story, that perfect storm of mass media compulsion turns into its own kind of perfect storm for Holmes himself. Because Watson, his friend and faithful biographer, fits all too easily into Holmes’ profile of the killer. Something that Holmes the thinking machine can’t make himself ignore, no matter how much he wishes it were not possibly so.

Because his best friend seems to have a guilty conscience, or at least a guilty secret. Watson, nearly a year after his marriage to Mary Morstan, moving out of 221b Baker Street and setting up his own household and his own medical practice, is lying to both his wife and Holmes about his whereabouts on the nights when Jack has been out and about on his grisly business.

If Watson is not the killer, Holmes’ suspicion of him will break their friendship. If he is, it will break the heart that Holmes tries to pretend he does not have. Whichever turns out to be the real case, Holmes is certain that nothing will ever be the same.

He has no idea just how right he is. And just how wrong.

Escape Rating B: The initial premise for this story is obvious when one thinks about it. If Holmes had been a real person, he would have been active in 1888 when the Ripper killings took place. In the Holmes’ chronology, the Ripper killings would have taken place around the time of the stories The Sign of the Four and The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor. Stories that Watson faithfully chronicled.

If Holmes were real, of course Scotland Yard would have contacted him, expecting him to bring his singular genius to the solving of this terrible series of murders and mutilations, so it seems logical to place Holmes in the context of the investigation.

(In fact, it’s been done before, most especially in Lyndsay Faye’s utterly marvelous and highly recommended Dust and Shadow. If you liked this take on Holmes investigating the Ripper, you will LOVE that one. I digress.)

The thing that makes this particular version feel different from Faye’s version, or from many another Holmes pastiche, is that this is a rare story that is not chronicled by Holmes’ faithful Boswell, Dr. John Watson, for reasons that become obvious in the story.

But Holmes’ chronicle of his own investigation feels just the tiniest bit “off”. It’s utterly fascinating, and I had a great time reading it, but the Holmes of this version is considerably more angsty than is the norm.

On the other hand, the reason for the angst is also very much outside the norm. He suspects Watson, his best friend, of being the Ripper. That would be enough to make anyone resort to a bit of “purple prose”, even the usually unemotional Sherlock Holmes.

The case then becomes two-fold. Holmes is investigating the Ripper killings. Killings in which he feels that the perpetrator has studied his methods and is deliberately taunting him. Holmes is also investigating Watson’s guilty secret, as Watson is manifestly lying to everyone close to him, and is someone who most definitely knows Holmes’ methods.

So Holmes is working both for and against the police, the police are as competent as usual, meaning not very, and Watson is being furtive and looking extremely guilty about something. Holmes is not sure who or what he should pursue, while the police are following his trail and coming to the same conclusions, without that deep friendship that he needs to protect but feels betrayed at the same time.

But the case, as convoluted as  Holmes’ cases generally are, still manages to build itself slowly and methodically towards an inexorable conclusion – just not quite the one that anybody expects.

Readers who have delved into the many, varied and fascinating worlds presented by Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and those who are fascinated by the idea of the greatest detective attempting to solve the unsolvable Ripper murders will be on the edge of their seats until the very end.