Review: The Hound of Justice by Claire O’Dell

Review: The Hound of Justice by Claire O’DellThe Hound of Justice (The Janet Watson Chronicles, #2) by Claire O'Dell
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #2
Pages: 288
Published by Harper Voyager on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dr. Janet Watson and former covert agent Sara Holmes, introduced in the acclaimed A Study in Honor, continue their dangerous investigation into the new American Civil War with the help of fresh allies, advanced technology, and brilliant deduction in this superb reimagining of Sherlock Holmes.

It’s been two months since Dr. Janet Watson accepted an offer from Georgetown University Hospital. The training for her new high-tech arm is taking longer than expected, however, leaving her in limbo. Meanwhile, her brilliant friend and compatriot, Sara Holmes, has been placed on leave--punishment for going rogue during their previous adventure. Neither is taking their situation very well.

Then an extremist faction called the Brotherhood of Redemption launches an assassination attempt on the president. The attempt fails but causes mass destruction—fifty dead and hundreds more injured, and Holmes takes on the task of investigating the Brotherhood.

Holmes is making progress when she abruptly disappears. Watson receives a mysterious message from Holmes’s cousin Micha and learns that her friend has quit the service and is operating in the shadows, investigating clues that link the Brotherhood to Adler Industries.

She needs a surgeon, Micha tells Watson. She needs you.

Reunited once more, Dr. Watson, Holmes, and Micha embark on a mission through the deep South to clear Holmes’s name, thwart the Brotherhood’s next move, and most important, bring their nemesis to justice for the atrocities she’s committed in the New Civil War.

My Review:

The Hound of Justice is even better than A Study in Honor, and I loved A Study in Honor. But Study needs to set itself up in its near-future variation on our world and its not-quite-pastiche of Holmes and Watson.

When the action picks up in Hound, we’re already there. We know who these women are, and we recognize their world – it’s all too close to our own.

It’s a world that feels like a direct – and not very far future descendant – of the world we know now. Obama was president, and so was Trump. And the U.S. flirted with fascism during the presidency of Trump and his enablers.

Resulting in a leftist backlash, and now a right-center response to that backlash. This is a future that is well within the lifetime of all of us reading the book, and it feels all-too-plausible from here.

Damn it.

It also feels like a variation of the alternative history of last year’s awesome American War. Because somewhere in those swings of the political pendulum, the New Confederacy declared war on the Federal States. It’s an ugly, brutal war, because civil wars are seldom civil at all.

And there are entirely too many people on the side of the supposedly liberal Federal States whose beliefs align much more closely with the Confederacy. Along with entirely too many people who profit from the chaos and carnage – and only care that it continues as long as bloody possible.

After the events of A Study in Honor, Sara Holmes and Dr. Janet Watson are living in the aftermath, where they were right for the wrong reasons, and Sara went rogue from her alphabet agency handlers to get the job done.

The problem is that the job was only partially done. Holmes and Watson will have to go behind enemy lines to finish it.

Or be finished.

Escape Rating A: I found the story in The Hound of Justice to be both fascinating and predictable, and those two things shouldn’t go together – but they do in this case. They really, really do.

Partially, it is that I love the setup. I hate that it feels so very plausible, but it works all too well. It feels like a logical extension of the current political climate – to the point that I was glad to see that my present home of Atlanta does stay within the Federal States.

The Federal States haven’t reached the level of being dystopian, at least not yet. And at least not if you are not black or brown or gay or gender nonconforming or female. Also probably not if you are some variety of Christian, but the fault lines on that particularly axis are not obvious so far, as our heroines are black, lesbian professional women.

Or really, heroine, singular. As in the original Holmes stories, Watson is telling the story of her life with – and often without – Holmes. But the Holmes of the Janet Watson Chronicles is even more mercurial – and less forthcoming – than the original. Truly this is Janet Watson’s story, while Holmes is a catalyst for events more than a participant.

And that’s a good thing, because this Holmes seems to have the emotional depths of a teaspoon – and the original, particularly at the beginning, wasn’t much better.

Janet Watson, on the other hand, feels too much. She’s a wounded war veteran (as was the original) who has to cope with the temporary and perhaps permanent loss of her identity as a surgeon. And has to deal with her ongoing PTSD, a condition that is exacerbated by the events of this story.

Because she feels, we feel with her. Her hopes, her fears, her dreams and especially her nightmares. Because she has to live them, over and over again. And yet, she keeps going. It’s the journey that she keeps going on, the road that she keeps traveling in spite of her fear, that make this story so fascinating.

The predictability factor comes from knowing just a bit about the original Holmes. And on the nature of fiction in series.

The villain was who the villain had to be, because there were so many clues about that job not being taken care of the first time. It just couldn’t be anyone else, particularly with such similar methods. The title of this story is a play on The Hound of the Baskervilles, a story which takes place just before Holmes’ “death” at Reichenbach Falls. Another clue to the ultimate ending of this version.

But there is so much marvelously taut tension in how The Hound of Justice gets from its bloody beginning to its cathartic but not quite victorious end that I got sucked in on the opening page and couldn’t put it down.

I hope that the author returns to these characters and this world, whenever. Preferably ASAP.

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Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’DellA Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles #1) by Claire O'Dell, Beth Bernobich
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #1
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

My Review:

This was a wow. Even better, it was a wow in ways that I wasn’t expecting, so excellent all the way around.

Admittedly, I bounced off A Study in Honor the first time I started it. I was expecting a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which it sorta/kinda is, but that’s not really apparent at the beginning. At the beginning, we’re following Dr. Janet Watson as she gets the shaft from the VA after losing her arm in combat.

Dr. Watson is a surgeon, and to go back to that job in civilian life, she needs two good hands. And the combat-damaged prosthetic that was supposed to be a temporary fix, well, it isn’t even good enough for much in civilian life – it certainly isn’t good enough for surgery.

But the war isn’t going well, is extremely unpopular, and the VA is sucking hind tit in the federal budget. Some things never change.

Other things do.

This war, unlike the perpetual war in Afghanistan that injured both the original Dr. John Watson and his 21st century incarnation in Sherlock, is a civil war. In what has become the not-so-United States.

The very frightening thing about this war is that it is so close we can see it from here. And entirely possible for all that. It’s a variation on the civil war in the darkly awesome book American War by Omar El Akkad, where the “reactionary” forces of the Old South have picked up the guns they are always afraid are going to be taken away from them and started a shooting war with what they see as the liberal-leftist North and Left-Coast West.

Unlike in American War, in this version, the so-called “Conservative” forces seem to be winning, if not all of the battles, at least the battle for hearts and minds in the North. It’s as though they made Robert E. Lee’s strategy work – just keep going long enough for the North to get too tired to fight.

This is also a scary close near future in that in 2016 Trump did get elected. Then after his administration overthrew as many of the civil rights of minorities as they could possibly manage, got replaced by the backlash of a progressive female Democratic president. After spending part of her first term turning back as much of the damage as possible, the folks who want their idealized 1950s back began the war in Oklahoma.

But this isn’t quite a dystopia, although it’s certainly getting there. Back home in Washington DC, away from the fronts in the states surrounding Oklahoma, the world seems to be going on as normal.

Unless you’re a wounded veteran trying to get the benefits you’re entitled to out of a VA that only cares about its bottom line.

Just as in the original stories, and in most of the remixes and pastiches, Watson is living off her military pension and needs a job. Holmes, in this case Sara Holmes, wants a roommate for the apartment she needs but claims to not be able to quite afford without said roommate.

But this Holmes is not what she seems. She’s every bit as brilliant (and enigmatic) as her original, but unlike the original Sherlock Holmes, Sara Holmes is not an independent agent.

As Janet Watson eventually discovers.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story, because a lot of this book is setup. While this world unfortunately feels like a logical extension of current events, it is not current events and needs to get us fixed firmly into its vision of the future.

Which does not mean it isn’t a vision of the future that doesn’t include a whole lot of the present. Unfortunately for our protagonists, the parts of the present that carry over are quite frequently the worst bits. I said this isn’t a dystopia, but a better description would be that it isn’t a dystopia yet.

Those roots in the contemporary present form a good part of the terrible case that Janet unearths and that Sara helps her resolve. Part of what makes this book an A- rather than a A is that the case was fairly obvious. All too plausible, but also all too easy to figure out from the very first clue.

What makes this story, this version of Holmes and Watson, so fascinating are the characters of the two women. Instead of two white men in Victorian England (or 21st century England, for that matter), the Holmes and Watson in A Study in Honor are two black women at a time and place where the hope for true equality that shone during the Obama era has receded into the past and is dying under the lash of “conservative” dog-whistles that are pitched so any human can hear.

Which also means that in addition to the many indignities visited upon Janet Watson because she’s a wounded veteran, even more are heaped upon her because she’s black and because she dared to aspire to a profession that some people still believe should have been reserved for whites. And where the lesbianism of both of the protagonists just adds yet another layer of potential for prejudice.

A Study in Honor is a dark and gritty portrait of a world going to hell in a handcart, as seen from the perspective of someone who has visited that hell, and sometimes seems to have only left it in body but not in spirit. And investigates a mystery that plows right into the hell of that war and the dark heart of the people and governments that are waging it.

Watson and Holmes’ adventures continue in The Hound of Justice. I can’t wait.

Reviewer’s Note: Claire O’Dell is a pseudonym for author Beth Bernobich.