Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Silver Cord by M.K. Wiseman

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Silver Cord by M.K. WisemanSherlock Holmes & the Silver Cord by M.K. Wiseman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 198
Published by M.K. Wiseman on August 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

"I speak of magic, Mr. Holmes." Poor Mr. Percy Simmons, leader of London's Theosophical Order of Odic Forces, stands upon the hearth rug of 221B Baker Street, slowly mangling his hat brim in ill-concealed distress and fully aware that his is not a case which Mr. Sherlock Holmes would ordinarily take up. These are not ordinary times, however. For something, some unquiet demon within Holmes stirs into discomfiting wakefulness under the occultist'swords. This unassuming Mr. Simmons has-in addition to his more fantastical of claims-spoken of good and evil with the sort of pure conviction and sincerity of soul that Sherlock yearns for. Something Holmes sought for himself during the three years in which the world thought him dead. While, for all intents, constructions, and purposes, he was dead. But, six months ago, Sherlock Holmes gave up that chase. He returned to Baker Street, declared himself alive to friend and foe alike, took up his old rooms, his profession, and his partnership with Dr. J. Watson. Only to find himself haunted still by the questions which had followed him out of the dreadful chasm of Reichenbach Why? Why had he survived when his enemy had not? To what end? And had there ever, truly, been such a thing as justice? Such a thing as good or evil?

My Review:

Sherlock Holmes & the Silver Cord, chronologically at least, is the kind of story that should have been included in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, right after The Adventure of the Empty House.

Why? Because The Empty House was the story that marked the return of Sherlock Holmes after his encounter with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem. And Silver Cord takes place just a few short months after Empty House, and shows that Holmes’ personal house of the soul and spirit is every bit as empty as that house he led Moriarty’s remaining henchmen to stake out upon his return to London.

Which goes a long way towards explaining why this story, like the author’s previous forays into Holmes pastiches, Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel and Sherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair, came from the pen of the Great Detective himself and was not written after the fact by his ‘Boswell’, Dr. John H. Watson.

Sherlock Holmes as Watson portrayed him was a ‘thinking machine’, a creature made entirely of intellect who revealed little of his own inner workings and devoted all his prodigious mental powers to his cases. Watson did not show him as a man of finer feelings or filled with an inner life, nor did he portray his friend as particularly virtuous. Rather, Watson’s Holmes was an ascetic because he didn’t care about finer feelings, his own or anyone else’s.

The Sherlock in Silver Cord, however, shows an all-too-human side that Watson probably thought he knew, but in more depth of angst than Victorian sensibilities would ever have allowed him to portray – or than Holmes himself would have ever chosen to show.

But in Holmes’ own mind, as we are in this story, we see a man dealing with the aftermath of a great but scarring undertaking, as well as a person who has spent years living by his wits and on his last nerve, suddenly expected to return to a normalcy that lacks the drive, focus and sheer adrenaline that has keep him alive in multiple senses of that word for more than long enough to get addicted to the sensation.

Perhaps even as much of an addiction as Holmes’ infamous seven-per-cent solution.

This is a case that has both Holmes and the reader hooked because it initially seems to deal in realms beyond the physical. For the reader, the complete lack of physical clues combined with the way that the actions of the villain seem determined to drive his victims to despair without any actual threats does have the potential to be paranormal in some form or fashion.

While the setting of these crimes – if they are crimes – among the cognoscenti of spiritualism and esoteric theologies pushes Holmes towards questions of his own morality, to the sharp but seemingly narrow dividing line between good and evil, and to his own mental meanderings into the state of his own soul after his deliberate plot to destroy his enemy.

Escape Rating B: The fascinating thing about this ‘series’ of Holmes stories is the way that the author has managed to create a combination of times, places and reasons why Holmes would be writing the story himself rather than using Watson as his amanuensis.

In the first outing, Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel, Holmes wrote the story himself because Watson was, quite plausibly in fact, a potential suspect in the murders. The case of Sherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair took place in the time period just before Holmes met Watson and they took up rooms together at 221b.

In this case, it’s because Sherlock Holmes is caught up in his own angst about his premeditated plan to drop Moriarty to hell by way of the plunge down Reichenbach Falls – even if Holmes had to join him there himself. In a moment of clarity during that struggle, Holmes saw just how close he and his adversary were, that only a hairsbreadth separated their fates. Not just the question of who lived and who died, but of who should have. Holmes saw how little separated each of them from the other’s side of the line.

At the same time, Holmes is finding that normalcy is a bit, well, uninspiring in comparison to his years on the run. He’s suffering from what would today be labeled PTSD, keeping up a frenetic pace of investigations in order to substitute for the constant thrill of adrenaline he had lived under as he chased Moriarty’s remaining agents – and they chased him.

He’s also realizing that he’s been more than a bit of an ass in the way he treated Watson, not just in pretending to be dead at Reichenbach but in not standing with his friend in his hours of need. And then expecting Watson to just take him back and take back up with him the moment he returned.

And Holmes isn’t wrong about that last bit. He was an ass. And he frequently is. But Watson is at his side anyway, always and forever. Whether Holmes deserves it or not. And he is finally aware that he often does not.

Then there’s this case, which combines Holmes’ internal struggles and angst over recent events with a bit of envy that the people he’s investigating seem to have found ways to enlightenment or at least spiritual peace that have eluded him.

Holmes, for once in his otherwise skeptical life, wants there to be answers beyond this world – even if they are not for him.

What he discovers in the course of his investigation answers the more typical investigative questions of whodunnit, how did they do it and why did they do it without any involvement in the metaphysical. But it’s Holmes’ angst-ridden and inchoate search for answers to the questions ‘beyond the veil’ that give this story a sense that either it’s not quite the Holmes we’re used to – or Holmes isn’t quite who we expect him to be.

It all makes sense after reading the author’s notes at the end, but in the middle, as Holmes mostly spins his metaphysical and spiritual wheels in search of answers for himself rather than the case, it goes a bit off the well-beaten Holmesian path in a way that can be uncomfortable for the reader.

We don’t like to see our heroes stumble, and this is a story where Holmes is definitely stumbling – if only inside the confines of his own head. But seeing him trip over his own mental, spiritual and even moral feet makes him more human. Whether that’s a good take on the character or merely an unsettling one is left in the mind of the reader.

In this reader’s mind, while this portrait of the Great Detective as a seeking human was uncomfortable in its reading, it added rather a lot to the development of the character as he appears in later-set stories like Laurie R. King’s marvelous introduction to Holmes’ second act,  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

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 &

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 &

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.