Review: The Blue Diamond by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Blue Diamond by Leonard GoldbergThe Blue Diamond (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #6) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, World War I
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #6
Pages: 336
Published by Minotaur Books on June 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
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The fate of the allied forces lies in the hands of Joanna and the Watsons in the next Daughter of Sherlock Holmes mystery from USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg.During a critical stage in World War One, the Governor-General of South Africa journeys to London for a meeting of The Imperial War Conference. Days prior to the conference, the Governor-General is scheduled to have an audience at Buckingham Palace at which time a most precious blue diamond will be presented to King Edward as a symbolic gesture of the colonies’ resolute and never-ending allegiance to England.
The flawless blue diamond, with its magnificent luster, weighs nearly 3000 carats which renders it one of the world’s largest and most valuable gems. On the Governor-General’s arrival, he is ensconced at the fashionable Windsor Hotel under the tightest security, with his entire entourage and formidable security team occupying the entire penthouse floor. All entrances and exits are locked down and closely guarded, and no one is allowed entrance after 6 PM.
Despite the extreme precautions, the famous diamond is stolen from the Governor-General’s suite in the middle of the night, with no clues left behind. With Scotland Yard baffled, Joanna and the Watsons are called in to investigate the theft and it becomes clear that the crime is not simply the work of a master thief, but one that could greatly aid the Germans and turn the tide of war in their favor. Time is of the essence and the blue diamond must be recovered before it begins its travels which could cause irreparable damage to the allied war plans.

My Review:

Up until this entry of this series featuring Joanna (Holmes) Blalock Watson, the Daughter of Sherlock Holmes of the series title, it has very much seemed as if the books in the series have been as much, or even more, in dialogue with Sherlock Holmes himself and the canon of the elder Dr. Watson’s accounts as they were about the investigations conducted in the series’ present by Joanna Watson with the able assistance of her husband, the younger Dr. Watson, and his esteemed father.

But in this entry in the series, even though it does call back to the codebreaking in her father’s Adventure of the Dancing Men, is finally dealing directly with the important events of her day rather than her father’s famous cases.

That is because The Blue Diamond takes place in 1916, and the criminal activities that Joanna and the Watsons are called in to investigate in London are directly related to the war taking place in Europe – even if that is only a suspicion when they are first called in.

At first, it looks like a series of very high-end thefts occurring at equally high-end hotels. The first prize the clearly expert thieves took was a rare Ming vase worth over 100,000 pounds. The second was an even rarer – and much more highly prized – blue diamond. Hence the title of the book.

But the diamond was stolen from the suite of the Governor-General of South Africa – making the whole mess a political nightmare. Even so, the theft of a rare vase and an even rarer diamond are still property crimes – even if the value of the items represented riches beyond the dreams of avarice – if not beyond the dreams of high-end thieves.

The third item stolen shifted the entire investigation from mere grand theft to treason when top secret papers were extracted from a visiting French Minister’s suite. Those papers, which contained top secret plans for a joint operation between the British and the French designed to draw the German army into a trap and then break them in a pincer movement, elevated the crime to one that would get the perpetrators hung – if Joanna and the Watsons can figure out who they are.

And as much as Scotland Yard wanted Joanna and the Watsons on the original case, MI5 was even more eager to have them discover not just whodunnit, but how and why and especially whether or not those plans had been relayed to the enemy.

The tide of the war depended on those answers. It really, truly did.

Escape Rating B: This series always gives me mixed feelings. Probably because at least within the confines of my own head, it is in dialogue with two other series (Mary Russell and Lady Sherlock) that re-work Holmes and each treats the Great Detective entirely differently. (If anyone knows of a story or even fanfiction that puts Joanna, Charlotte and Mary in the same room for what would be an utterly fascinating conversation please let me know!)

Only the Russell series has fully traveled beyond the original canon by virtue of having Sherlock outlive it. Lady Sherlock is still working her way through it. This is the first case of Joanna’s where she is dealing fully with her own contemporary circumstances and not her father’s.

Rather than being rooted in Sherlock Holmes’ old case, this one is rooted in what we now call history. It’s 1916, the Great War is creating great casualties along with victories that seem like defeats. The U.S. has not yet entered the war, and Germany seems unstoppable. The situation is grim. Those plans have the potential to change the tide of the war – but only if the Germans don’t see them (This eventually happened, the plans referenced in the story were carried out at the Battle of Amiens.)

At first, there are few clues beyond the obvious, that stealing the plans benefits the German High Command. If the plans reach Berlin it gives the enemy knowledge of future military strategy. It has the potential to demoralize the Allies. The uncertainty about whether the plans have been seen and/or tampered with throws up confusion and doubt.

While Germany’s motives are obvious, there don’t seem to be any German agents involved. Instead it all circles back to the South African Governor-General and his entourage. South Africa is a Dominion of the British Empire – an ally. And that’s where the case gets more convoluted.

As Joanna becomes more certain that the thefts were an inside job, the reasons for those thefts becomes that much more elusive. It’s only as the noose tightens around 221B Baker Street that Joanna is finally able to determine who is holding the rope – and why.

There are things about this series that I really like, particularly the portrayal of Dr. Watson Sr. as an intelligent man and a dedicated physician who misses his old friend and finds delight and purpose in helping his friend’s daughter and his own son continue in their footsteps. He’s delightful and he feels both real and right as a character. That he’s well into his 80s at this point in the series and has a heart condition makes me sad. He can’t live forever and there are signs that his time is coming.

I want to say that I find Joanna a bit odd – but she comes by that honestly, considering who her father was. Or does she? That, for me, is the greatest puzzle of the entire series so far, as Joanna seems to have every single one of her father’s habits, quirks and eccentricities to the point where she can seem to be a caricature of a man she never met. That she might have inherited his genius would be entirely possible – but not the whole kit and kaboodle of his personality in all its extremities. Rather than ringing true, this particular bell is ringing cracked.

The case she has to solve here is every bit as contrived and convoluted as any that her father faced. But at least this one is hers, born out of the war the world is facing in her time and not his. This feels like a step forward for the series so I’m glad to see it.

In spite of those quibbles, and all the ways in which this series drives me crazy, I know I’ll be back for the next book in the series. I never can resist a Holmes story.

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
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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: Observations by Gaslight by Lyndsay Faye

Review: Observations by Gaslight by Lyndsay FayeObservations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 295
Published by Mysterious Press on December 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Lyndsay Faye—international bestseller, translated into fifteen languages, and a two-time Edgar Award nominee—first appeared on the literary scene with Dust and Shadow, her now-classic novel pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and later produced The Whole Art of Detection, her widely acclaimed collection of traditional Watsonian tales.  Now Faye is back with Observations by Gaslight, a thrilling volume of both new and previously published short stories and novellas narrated by those who knew the Great Detective.
Beloved adventuress Irene Adler teams up with her former adversary in a near-deadly inquiry into a room full of eerily stopped grandfather clocks.  Learn of the case that cemented the lasting friendship between Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, and of the tragic crime which haunted the Yarder into joining the police force. And witness Stanley Hopkins’ first meeting with the remote logician he idolizes, who will one day become his devoted mentor.  
From familiar faces like landlady Mrs. Hudson to minor characters like Lomax the sub-librarian, Observations by Gaslight—entirely epistolary, told through diaries, telegrams, and even grocery lists—paints a masterful portrait of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as you have never seen them before.
 

My Review:

There’s a conceit in regards to Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with Doyle himself. That Doyle was merely the publisher of stories written by Dr. John H. Watson that were somewhat sensationalized accounts of Watson’s adventures with his friend and flatmate, Sherlock Holmes.

So it is with the collection, that someone is putting together a book or booklet of previously unknown Holmes adventures, written by people who were occasional or even frequent assistants to the “Great Detective”. As this book is to be published in commemoration of Holmes’ retirement from public life, the collator of this volume has reached out to acquaintances of Holmes throughout his career, ranging from his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson to his former lieutenant Henry Wiggins to his frequent foil Inspector Lestrade.

With, naturally, a contribution from “the Woman” herself, Irene Norton née Adler recounting the one time that she and Holmes were on the same side of a thorny and fascinating case.

There are six stories in this collection, with the entries rounded out by contributions from two minor characters in the Holmes canon, Detective Stanley Hopkins and the sub-librarian A. Davenport Lomax who becomes acquainted with Holmes through his long-standing friendship with Watson.

The stories range from the slight to the profound. Mrs. Hudson’s story, “A Life Well Lived,” is one of the slighter – and also fluffier – works in the collection. There is a small mystery to be solved, but the heart of the story is on Mrs. Hudson’s reflections that her life has been richer and more satisfying because of the occasionally explosive presence of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in the flat she offered for rent so many years before.

Lomax’ story, “The Gospel of Sheba,” is also a bit on the lesser side, as Holmes himself doesn’t appear until nearly the end, and most of the mystery is wrapped around Lomax’ fears regarding his absent wife’s fidelity and his nearly-fatal idiocy surrounding his own investigation of a poisoned book.

Hopkins’ story, “The River of Silence,” shows Holmes in the role of mentor to the young police inspector, a role that surprises and delights and is perfect for the length of the story.

But the shining lights of this collection belong to Adler, Wiggins and Lestrade. Adler’s contribution, “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks,” shines as brightly as the footlights that illuminate the opera stages which are her accustomed milieu. This story, unlike Adler’s famous introduction to Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” places “The Woman” and “The Great Detective” on the same side, investigating a criminal organization that has its hooks into Holmes’ beloved London in general, and Adler’s despicable in-laws in specific. What makes this story sing is its portrayal of their brief but brilliant collaboration as not just colleagues, but also friends for this one sparkling moment in time.

On the other hand, both Wiggins’ story, “The Song of a Want,” and Lestrade’s, “Our Common Correspondent,” are heartbreaking in their sorrow.

Wiggins, now a prosperous and successful solicitor, looks back on his days as a mudlark, when Holmes, himself younger and considerably poorer, teamed up with 9-year-old Wiggins to find a kidnapped young girl, bring down a sick and twisted criminal preying on the young and the desperate, and scratch out the humble beginnings of an organization that became the bane of criminals throughout London, the famous ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.

At least Wiggins’ story, as dark and desperate as it seems in the middle, manages to scrape out a happy ending. Lestrade’s account of his first ‘case’ with Holmes and the tragedy that turned him towards a career bringing criminals to justice is a story about one man who is keeping on keeping on a quest that can never be fulfilled and a grief that can never be assuaged. The light that shines through this story is the kind that is seen through a glass very darkly indeed. It’s a story that inspires both weeping and rage. As it should.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeEscape Rating A-: This review is just a bit early, but I couldn’t resist picking this one up now. I’m considering it a Hanukkah present – and a marvelous one for any reader who loves Sherlock Holmes stories as I do.

My first exposure to the author of this collection was through her utterly marvelous Dust and Shadow, an account of Holmes’ involvement with the Ripper case. There have been plenty of attempts to portray Holmes assaying that investigation, but Dust and Shadow is still the best, the most true to both the Holmes we know and love from the canon and the known facts about the infamous Ripper.

Her previous Holmes collection, The Whole Art of Detection, was equally marvelous and definitely worth a read.

As is this one, Observations by Gaslight. Of the six stories, two weren’t quite up to snuff, but “The Song of a Want”, “Our Common Correspondent” and “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks” absolutely made the entire collection a terrific read and a great way to while away a chilly fall evening by whisking the reader away to sit in front of a warm fire at 221B Baker Street in the midst of a London pea-souper. If only for a little while.

Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas

Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry ThomasMiss Moriarty, I Presume? (Lady Sherlock, #6) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #6
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley Books on November 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlotte Holmes comes face to face with her enemy when Moriarty turns to her in his hour of need, in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.
A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes's doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.
Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty's daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte's sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte's longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte--or is it the other way around?
But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty's disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte's skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?

My Review:

Charlotte Holmes doesn’t actually utter that paraphrase of Henry Morton Stanley’s famous greeting of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871, although she certainly could have. Miss Moriarty, I Presume? takes place in 1887, during the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

And at the beginning of this story, Charlotte is contracted to determine whether or not Miss Marguerite Moriarty was every bit as lost as Stanley had been. Her father claimed to be concerned about his daughter’s circumstances. Then again, he also claimed to be a Mr. Baxter and not the infamous Moriarty.

It’s a cat and mouse game, with Moriarty, of course, as the cat. And Charlotte and all she holds dear as a pack of mice – possibly even the three blind mice and their kin. Leaving Miss Moriarty, in this analogy at least, as a being of indeterminate species. Not exactly a free agent. Not currently a part of her father’s many criminal enterprises. Not Charlotte’s friend or ally.

Except, just possibly, in the sense that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Because James Moriarty, whatever he might be calling himself at the moment, is certain the enemy of them both.

At first, this story feels like a game of smoke and mirrors and yet more of both. James Moriarty presents himself to Sherlock Holmes as Mr. Baxter, the concerned father of Miss Baxter who has taken herself to a remote religious retreat that may have brainwashed his daughter against him in order to swindle her out of her money.

But Charlotte and Moriarty have crossed paths several times before, and his shadow has loomed over every book in the series except the first, A Study in Scarlet Women. Moriarty knows that “Sherlock” is really Charlotte, and Charlotte is all too aware that Mr. Baxter is Moriarty.

And yet both are pretending that they know nothing more about the other than what lies on the surface. Charlotte is doing her best to protect her loved ones, the hostages to fortune that Moriarty will eliminate the moment Charlotte ceases to be of use to him – or becomes even more of a nuisance than she already is.

Therefore, Charlotte’s true mission is to determine Moriarty’s real purpose for this charade, even as she goes through the motions of fulfilling “Mr. Baxter’s” commission. No matter what the man claims, Charlotte knows that his real intent is to eliminate the pesky woman who has bollixed up his plans several too many times already.

And if he can either imprison or eliminate his daughter in the process – so much the better for him.

Escape Rating A-: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? is clearly meant to be the equivalent of The Final Problem in the original Sherlock Holmes canon. Most of the series has been leading towards this moment, a possibly fatal confrontation between Holmes and her nemesis, Moriarty.

But the original canon has been twisted and so has Charlotte Holmes’ solution of that final problem.

At first, while Charlotte is working out James Moriarty’s motives for setting up this puzzling and forcing her into it, she is also faced with the very real concern about Miss Moriarty’s present circumstances.

The religious community Miss Moriarty has retreated to is unconventional at best and suspicious at worst. Miss Moriarty herself has not been seen by anyone in over three months and her door is guarded by multiple dragons. She has done some slightly questionable things with her money, and more than one member of the community has died under suspicious circumstances.

Just because her father wishes ill on both his daughter and Charlotte does not mean there is no cause for concern – merely that her father’s concern is feigned at best. Charlotte’s concern about Miss Moriarty’s situation is quite real and entirely justified, no matter how much she wonders why James Moriarty has sent her to investigate rather than one of the many agents he clearly has stationed in the area.

It’s up to Charlotte to figure out the trap, evade its jaws, and get everyone out in one piece in a way that will force Moriarty to leave them ALL alone. If she can. If she can convince Miss Moriarty that her plan has a hope in hell of succeeding.

Her solution is clever, it’s every bit as convoluted as the plot of Moriarty’s that put her in this position in the first place. And it just might work.

As a story, this entry in the series was a bit less frustrating and a bit more fun. Many of the issues that have developed during the course of the series so far, not just Moriarty but also Charlotte’s relationship with Ash, her sister’s plight with their parents, her sister’s romantic woes and her half-brother’s escape from Moriarty’s clutches all move toward some resolution, even if they don’t get all the way there. Which they shouldn’t if readers want more of this series – which we most certainly do.

Also, this is the first story in the series where Charlotte, for the most part, is able to set aside the ruse of merely serving as the mouthpiece and amanuensis for her invalid brother “Sherlock”. Moriarty already knows her real identity. She still has plenty of secrets but she does not need to hide her light under the proverbial bushel basket to accomplish what must be done. It’s freeing for Charlotte and it’s freeing for both the reader and the story as well.

If this book is the equivalent of The Final Problem, then there is hope that in spite of the ending we have not seen the last of Lady Sherlock – or, for that matter, either James or Marguerite Moriarty and their minions. I hope that will turn out to be the case, and that somehow the equivalent of The Adventure in the Empty House will occur forthwith.

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard GoldbergThe Abduction of Pretty Penny (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery, #5) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #5
Pages: 352
Published by Minotaur Books on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A continuation of USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series, The Abduction of Pretty Penny finds Joanna and the Watsons on the tail of an infamous killer.
Joanna and the Watsons are called in by the Whitechapel Playhouse to find Pretty Penny, a lovely, young actress who has gone missing without reason or notice. While on their search, the trio is asked by Scotland Yard to join in the hunt for a vicious murderer whose method resembles that of Jack The Ripper. It soon becomes clear that The Ripper has reemerged after a 28-year absence and is once again murdering young prostitutes in Whitechapel.
Following a line of subtle clues, Joanna quickly reasons that Pretty Penny has been taken capture by the killer. But as Joanna moves closer to learning his true identity, the killer sends her a letter indicating her young son Johnny will be the next victim to die. Time is running out, and Joanna has no choice but to devise a most dangerous plan which will bring her face-to-face with the killer. It is the only chance to protect her son and rescue Pretty Penny, and save both from an agonizing death.
The Abduction of Pretty Penny is a wonderful new entry in a series that the Historical Novel Society calls “one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books."

My Review:

The Abduction of Pretty Penny falls prey to a temptation that has proven irresistible to more than one writer of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, just as Pretty Penny herself seems to have fallen victim to one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

It looks like the star of the Whitechapel Playhouse, the Pretty Penny of the story’s title, has been kidnapped by a criminal who is notorious – not for kidnapping his victims, but for murdering and dismembering them, leaving their mutilated corpses to be found in the alleys of Whitechapel.

Of course, I’m referring to Jack the Ripper, and therein lies both the terror and the multiple conundrums of this story. Because Joanna Blalock Watson is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. She has certainly inherited her father’s prodigious talents – but she is manifestly not his contemporary.

Joanna plies her inherited trade in the early years of the 20th century, while Jack committed his best-known crimes between 1888 and 1891. The heyday of Joanna’s famous father, and before her own birth.

It’s been 28 years since the Ripper stalked Whitechapel, but in addition to Pretty Penny’s abduction, Jack has been leaving his calling cards, the mutilated corpses of Unfortunates, as prostitutes are called, all over Whitechapel.

While sending especially terrifying notes to Joanna. And seemingly holding Pretty Penny captive until he can display her fresh corpse as part of his grisly “final act”.

So what begins as the search for a kidnap victim turns into a deadly contest between Jack the Ripper and, in a peculiar way, Sherlock Holmes. It’s clear from the Ripper’s actions that in his mind his antagonist is the Great Detective himself, even if the person he is taunting is Holmes’ daughter – and her son.

Escape Rating B+: So the story here is really Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper – only once removed, sort of like cousins, as in “first-cousin once-removed”.

Which only serves to highlight the thing about this story that drove me absolutely freaking bananas.

Many writers have succumbed to the temptation to write the case that never was but should have been, that of Sherlock Holmes investigating the Ripper. If Holmes were factual rather than fictional, this is a case that would certainly have happened. The Ripper’s spree occurred between 1888 and 1891, while Holmes’ first case, A Study in Scarlet, was published in The Strand in 1887, so presumably took place in that year or the year before.

Holmes and Moriarty had their presumed fatal encounter at Reichenbach Falls in 1891, so if Holmes had truly been operating during the Ripper years, he would have either been called in by Scotland Yard or would have been drawn in by his own irrepressible curiosity. (If you’re curious, the best accounting that I have ever read of Holmes investigating the Ripper is still Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye.)

As this series features Holmes’ daughter Joanna, her husband (and chronicler) Dr. John H. Watson, Jr., AND his father, Holmes’ friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Sr., now retired, I kept expecting to see some references by the senior Watson to either Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or the reason that Holmes didn’t involve himself with the Ripper case. The lack of such a reference was annoying. In the extreme.

I ended up with a lot of mixed feelings about this entry in the series – although the series opener, the appropriately titled The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, is still the best.

The progress of the case itself provided plenty of thrills and chills, to the point where some of the gruesome descriptions caused me to stop reading at bedtime. Some people have no problems sleeping after reading the details of human dismemberment but I’m not one of them.

So the investigation, and the hunt for Pretty Penny, had me riveted from the beginning to the surprisingly real sensation of relief at the end.

But it’s the things not said or not fully explained that keep this from true excellence.

As noted above, there should have been a reference either to Sherlock Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or an explanation of why such an investigation never took place. The lack was frustrating – infuriating even, like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Likewise there seemed to be a bit of a lack of explanation of why the Ripper went dormant for 28 years only to suddenly reappear at this particular juncture. Reasons were implied but not well explained. This may be the result of a desire not to mess with the known history – that the Ripper was never identified. This story does a surprisingly good job of having its cake and eating it too in that particular regard. But in order to make that part work, explanations of his long hiatus and his “resurrection” felt a bit scant.

So, lots of mixed feelings. I got instantly caught up in the story and was riveted to the end. But at that end, the link to Sherlock Holmes that I come to these stories for, fell just a bit short.

Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. King

Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. KingCastle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17) by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17
Pages: 384
Published by Bantam on June 8, 2021
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A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat--all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.
The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter to Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania's young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country's long-lost provinces, single-handedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.
The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thanks from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.
The threat is...now, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may only be accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.
When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won't take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi?
Or, as they are known in the West...vampires.

My Review:

As this one opens, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes, are leaving the sunny Riviera, the scene of their previous adventure, Riviera Gold, for the chillier and considerably more forbidding Carpathian Mountains. For the very scene of Count Dracula’s fictional adventures.

But Castle Bran, unlike the fictional residence of Dracula that was based on it, is the real life retreat of Queen Marie of Roumania.

There is a bit of Dorothy Parker doggerel that I memorized a long time ago, that goes:

“Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea.
Love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.”

I had no idea that Marie of Roumania was a real person. I thought it was something Parker made up in order to make the thing rhyme and scan correctly. Color me chagrined.

Holmes is on his way to Castle Bran and the town of Bran that it overlooks at the behest of Queen Marie herself. Someone is threatening the Queen’s young daughter, Princess Ireana and Her Majesty wants Holmes to find the culprit and stop them. That Holmes is also in the area at the suggestion, at least, of his brother Mycroft turns out to be a source of irritation for both Holmes and Russell.

Mycroft, the eminence grise of the British government, has a habit of commanding and commandeering the services of his brother for political purposes and occasionally downright espionage, in ways that give Russell serious qualms.

Qualms that are quite serious, a situation that has been developing since Russell learned the full scope of Mycroft’s government remit during The God of the Hive. Qualms that are compelling Holmes to, effectively, pick a side. He can either continue to serve his brother whenever and wherever called upon, at a moment’s notice for purposes that he may or may not strictly agree with and may or may not be for the so-called “greater good” – or he can remain married and in full partnership with his wife Mary Russell.

Because Mary requires honesty and Mycroft requires secrecy, and those requirements cannot both be met. (The fallout, when it finally comes in a later book in the series, is going to be EPIC.)

But at the moment, Holmes and Russell have a case. A case that has entirely too many shades of The Sussex Vampire, while potentially covered in all the blood that the infamous Roumanian countess Erzsebet (AKA Elizabeth) Bathory, ever bathed in.

There’s someone running around Bran and its neighboring villages trying to convince the locals that Queen Marie is as evil as Bathory and Dracula combined, and that no one in Bran will be safe until she’s been evicted from her castle.

Or, until Russell and Holmes figure out who is really behind this local reign of attempted terror.

Escape Rating A-: Castle Shade was good fun. Not quite as much good fun as Riviera Gold, but still absolutely worth the read for anyone who has followed the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Speaking of which, while I don’t think you have to have read Mary Russell’s entire opus to get into Castle Shade, you do have to have read some, if only to make sure you can get past the astonishing premise, that when Holmes retired to Sussex to keep bees he took on a 15-year-old apprentice who later – after she attained her majority – became both his investigative partner and his spouse.

But the case, with its echoes of Holmes’ earlier investigation, The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, is, in its way, a kind of a callback to Holmes’ earlier adventures.

In spite of the potential political overtones, the brush with real-life royalty and the unresolved issue of Brother Mycroft, among other things, the case that the Queen has asked Holmes to investigate and that Holmes has, in turn, requested Russell’s assistance with, winds its way around and about until it resolves into something classic.

When Holmes rules out any political motivations, the heart of the mystery turns into one of the basic questions in mystery. “Qui bono?” or more familiarly, “Who benefits?”

Because it’s all about Queen Marie and her ownership of Bran Castle. The whole point of the strange happenings and rumor mongering and attempts at raising unbridled hysteria among the local population are all aimed at Queen Marie.

Someone wants her out of Castle Bran. Someone believes they benefit from driving Marie out of her castle. It’s up to Holmes and Russell to see through all the misdirection swirling around them, find a way clear of all the many and various secrets that the locals are obviously keeping that may or may not have anything to do with what’s really going on, to determine exactly who it is who is up to no good.

And stop them.

One of the other lovely things about this particular entry in the series is that, unlike Riviera Gold and other recent stories, the focus is equally split between Holmes and Russell. They have equal but separate parts to play in this mystery and I’m happy to see that, at the moment of this story at least, their partnership is still working for both of them.

While this mystery comes to a satisfactory conclusion, it is equally clear that the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes still have many more stories yet to tell. And I’m looking forward to each and every one.

Review: In League with Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King

Review: In League with Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. KingIn League with Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon #5
Pages: 368
Published by Pegasus Crime on December 1, 2020
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The latest entry in Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger’s popular Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery series, featuring fifteen talented authors and a multitude of new cases for Arthur Conan Doyle’s most acclaimed detective.
Sherlock Holmes has not only captivated readers for more than a century and a quarter, he has fascinated writers as well. Almost immediately, the detective’s genius, mastery, and heroism became the standard by which other creators measured their creations, and the friendship between Holmes and Dr. Watson served as a brilliant model for those who followed Doyle. Not only did the Holmes tales influence the mystery genre but also tales of science-fiction, adventure, and the supernatural. It is little wonder, then, that when the renowned Sherlockians Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger invited their writer-friends and colleagues to be inspired by the Holmes canon, a cornucopia of stories sprang forth, with more than sixty of the greatest modern writers participating in four acclaimed anthologies.
Now, King and Klinger have invited another fifteen masters to become In League with Sherlock Holmes. The contributors to the pair’s next volume, due out in December 2020, include award-winning authors of horror, thrillers, mysteries, westerns, and science-fiction, all bound together in admiration and affection for the original stories. Past tales have spanned the Victorian era, World War I, World War II, the post-war era, and contemporary America and England. They have featured familiar figures from literature and history, children, master sleuths, official police, unassuming amateurs, unlikely protagonists, even ghosts and robots. Some were new tales about Holmes and Watson; others were about people from Holmes’s world or admirers of Holmes and his methods. The resulting stories are funny, haunting, thrilling, and surprising. All are unforgettable. The new collection promises more of the same!

My Review:

Because I’m a sucker for a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and in the right mood even for a bad one, I’ve eagerly anticipated each of these collections as they’ve appeared and I’ve read every single one of them, beginning with the very first, A Study in Sherlock back in 2011. This first entry in the series includes what is still my favorite story across the entire five volumes, The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman

It’s hard to believe that this current volume is the fifth in the series, after A Study in Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes and For the Sake of the Game.

Like most such collections, this one is just a bit uneven. The stories that work, really, really work. The ones that don’t fall flatter than the proverbial pancake.

I think I’ve read every single one of these collections as they have come out, and my favorite is still the very first one, A Study in Sherlock, although I have certainly discovered favorite stories in many of the later volumes.

I have to say that this entry in the series did not live up to its predecessors. As the series has gone on, the stories have ranged further and further from their original inspiration, in ways that, at least in this particular volume, feel like they owe more to cleverness than detection.

To put it another way, I like my Sherlock to more or less be a kind of Sherlock. It’s not necessary that the stories feel like the original canon – unless that’s done well it can be terribly off-putting. But when I hear the name Sherlock Holmes I expect a detective story of some kind, and too many of the stories in this entry in the series seemed to be showing off how ‘twee’ they could be rather than how well they could solve a case.

But I still have two favorites even in this somewhat motley crew.

James W. Ziskin’s The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement is a classic pastiche, featuring the original Holmes and Watson solving a case that was so old and so cold no one even knew it was a case. It’s not the first time, that the unexpected return of a person long-though deceased has provided new clues to an old murder for the Great Detective, and this one shows the deft hand of both the investigator and the writer in constructing – and solving – such a conundrum.

The Strange Juju Affair at the Gacy Mansion by Kwei Quartey was a classic of a completely different kind. It is the kind of Holmesian homage where, rather than Holmes himself serving as the detective, the investigator is someone who uses Holmes’ methods and applies them with Holmes’ genius at a time and place that Holmes never visited, in this particular case Kasoa, Ghana at an unspecified time period that feels like it is much later in the 20th century – if not the 21st – than Holmes would have lived to see. The detective is a retired police superintendent who never visits the crime scene, but with a few questions to his younger – and rather desperate – colleague still manages to solve a classic locked-room mystery.

Escape Rating B-: Too much of this entry in this long-running series went too far afield for this reader. But those two stories were right on the mark as lovely but totally different Holmes pastiches. Your reading mileage will, of course, vary. That is the point of these collections, that there is something for every reader looking for a taste, in this case a taste of Sherlock Holmes.

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
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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.

Review: The Art of Deception by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Art of Deception by Leonard GoldbergThe Art of Deception (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #4) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #4
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 16, 2020
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"Suspenseful and entertaining, with many twists and turns....This is one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books."—Historical Novel Society

USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg returns with another puzzling case for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes to unravel in this exciting mystery, The Art of Deception, sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well Laurie R. King and Charles Finch.
In the west end of London, an apparently crazed individual is on the loose, breaking into art galleries and private homes to slash valuable paintings of women. Despite Scotland Yard’s best efforts, the criminal remains at large and continues on his destructive path.
When Joanna and the Watsons are called in to solve the mystery, they soon discover that although the canvases have been slashed, their backings remain pristine, with no cuts or scratches. The criminal, it seems, is no mere vandal—he's searching for something hidden behind the portraits.
Suspicion soon falls on two skilled art restorers who previously worked at the gallery where all the vandalized art was purchased. When Joanna finds the body of one in a bricked off fireplace at the gallery, the other is left as the prime suspect. But then he's discovered dead as well. Luckily, Joanna has a plan for ensnaring the criminal once and for all. But it must not fail, or more paintings—and lives—will be lost.

My Review:

I picked this one up as a bit of a “palate cleanser”. The book I had planned to read was supposed to be a take-off on Holmes and Watson, and it kind of was? But it just wasn’t hitting the sweet spot, leaving me in the mood for something Holmes-ish but not quite so historical – or honestly quite so slow to get itself off the ground.

Then I got an eARC of the NEXT book in this series (The Abduction of Pretty Penny), remembered I still hadn’t read the last one, and, as the saying goes, “Bob’s your uncle.” Or in this case, your aunt, as this series follows the adventures of, not Sherlock Holmes, but his daughter Joanna.

As chronicled by her assistant, partner and husband, Dr. John Watson the younger. Not that Watson the elder isn’t still around and still extremely helpful, but this series is told from the perspective of his son, who is Joanna (Holmes) Blalock Watson’s second husband.

The case that is presented to Joanna and company is every bit as twisted as any that her famous progenitor tackled, with a solution that at first seems every bit as elusive.

There has been a series of crimes committed in art galleries and private art collections. One would think that a crime in that setting would be theft. After all, there are plenty of pricey paintings on display. But this particular series of crimes consists of breaking, entering and vandalizing.

The paintings seem to have three things in common. They all feature the faces of women. They have all been recently restored. And they’ve all been slashed with a sharp knife from the front without slicing open the back.

The authorities, in the person of Inspector Lestrade, can’t seem to find a common element to either the paintings or the crime scene. Of course, the daughter of Sherlock Holmes can.

The only problem with Joanna’s hypothesis is that of the two men she believes committed the crimes, one is in prison and one is in Australia. The authorities could be wrong. Or Joanna could be mistaken.

Which do you think is more likely?

Escape Rating B: On the one hand, this did do what I wanted it to. I sunk right into this world as soon as I opened the book. On the other hand, it didn’t quite hit that sweet spot – but it did get way closer than my previous book.

There’s something about this series, as well as the Lady Sherlock series, that hits that “almost but not quite” button. But it’s not the same something.

The difference is that Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is THE Holmes, except, except, except. Except she’s female instead of male. Except that she is subject to all of the strictures and restrictions that governed respectable female behavior in the Victorian era. Except that the number of people who know the truth about Sherlock Holmes can be counted on one hand with fingers left over.

Joanna Blalock Watson is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes, as she is referred to so damn often that the sobriquet seems to substitute for her actual name. There are times when she is introduced that way, as though she has no identity separate from her father’s exploits.

But Holmes did not raise Joanna, so while it might be possible or even probable that she would have inherited his genius and his innate talents, occasionally the sheer number of his tics and habits that she also inherited seems a bit much.

Joanna also reads almost like a caricature of her father’s famous persona as a “thinking machine”, except for her marital relationship with the younger Watson and her rather overwhelming maternal instincts towards her son Johnny Blalock. Charlotte Holmes reads as more of a “whole person” than Joanna. YMMV.

As Joanna is Holmes’ daughter, this series does not take place in the Victorian Era. Instead, this story is set in 1916. Which seems odd now that I think about it, as this story takes place in the middle of World War I, which isn’t even mentioned anywhere in the narrative. Nevertheless, the century has definitely turned, Queen Victoria is more than a decade dead, dusting for fingerprints has become standard police procedure, and telephones are commonplace, as are automobiles. Joanna’s world is not remotely as restricted as Charlotte’s, which allows the pace of the case to gather more steam. Or should that be horsepower?

Part of the twist in the case is that it seems like the perpetrators are obvious fairly early on. Then they aren’t. And then they are again. There’s also a hidden criminal but that person’s participation in the crimes is even more obvious – not because they’ve done anything obviously wrong, but because they’re so obviously slimy. The bigger twist was the reason for the crimes. There is a lot of fascinating information – and even more contentious opinion – running through the whole story when it comes to Renaissance painting as well as the restoration and forgery of the same.

And the MacGuffin that Joanna finally uncovers? It’s a masterpiece. Possibly even a real one!

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard GoldbergThe Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #3) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #3
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the third book of this critically-acclaimed series, Sherlock Holmes' daughter faces a new unsolvable mystery with spies and a threat to the crown. Joanna and the Watsons receive an unexpected visitor to 221b Baker Street during a nocturnal storm. A rain-drenched Dr. Alexander Verner arrives with a most harrowing tale.
Verner has just returned from an unsettling trip to see a patient who he believes is being held against his will. Joanna quickly realizes that Verner's patient is a high-ranking Englishman who the Germans have taken captive to pry vital information about England’s military strategies for the Great War. The man is revealed to be Alistair Ainsworth, a cryptographer involved in the highest level of national security.
The police are frantic to find Ainsworth before the Germans can use him to decode all of England’s undeciphered messages. Ainsworth must be found at all costs and Joanna and the Watsons might be the only ones who can connect the clues to find him.
USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg returns with another puzzling case for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes to unravel in this exciting mystery sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes.

My Review:

After yesterday’s book, I was looking, partly for comfort but mostly for something where I knew what I was letting myself in for before I started. (Also looking for NOT a 700 page doorstop!) Then I saw that the fourth book in this series, The Art of Deception, came out recently – but I hadn’t read the third one yet.

And I’m always a sucker for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, so I hunted this up in the virtually towering TBR pile, read the first chapter and BOOM the game was afoot!

Not that Joanna Blalock Watson ever utters her father’s favorite catchphrase during the course of this entry in the series. Although she certainly seems to have more than her fair share of her father’s attributes, talents and personal foibles.

As well as his partner and amanuensis, Dr. John H. Watson, Sr. But her father’s old partner isn’t hers. Rather, that role has fallen to his son, Dr. John H. Watson, Jr. The younger Watson fills multiple roles in Joanna’s life, as pathologist, partner in detection, chronicler and biographer, as well as husband and stepfather to her young son, who even as a teen is already a chip off the family block.

As, to some extent, is this case, reminiscent as it is of The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter and His Last Bow, encompassing as it does some of the plot elements of Greek Interpreter with the time period and circumstances of His Last Bow, which provides some information about Holmes’ service to the Crown during the Great War. In this series of his daughter’s adventures, Holmes has been deceased for some years, so those services to the Crown are provided by his daughter Joanna instead, with the able assistance of both of the Drs. Watson.

While the story begins with the kind of convoluted opening that Holmes’ cases were famous for, it quickly morphs into something that is both more so – and less at the same time. Initially, this is a case of a doctor treating a mysterious patient at the end of an equally mysterious journey, only to learn that his patient is not so much a patient as he is a captive trying to get out the message that he is in a great deal of trouble.

And that’s where the Crown steps into this narrative, as the captive is missing from his job as one of Britain’s top cryptanalysts. It is late in 1915, there is a war going on, and Alistair Ainsworth is a key figure in both deciphering coded enemy dispatches and encoding those of the British. German agents have kidnapped the man with the obvious intent of breaking him, getting him to work on their behalf both to tighten up their own codes and to break any codes that the British have used in the past, or will in the future.

The German agents are professionals; careful, cunning and seemingly always one step ahead of Joanna, the Watsons and the police. But there are three factors that they never seem to have accounted for in all of their careful planning. Their captive is a master chess player, always two or three steps ahead, attacking on multiple fronts and willing to play as long a game as necessary. His colleagues are, while not quite up to his level, geniuses at code breaking in their own rights and able to work from the tiniest of clues provided by their colleague. And last but not least, they clearly never reckoned on needing to keep several steps ahead of the daughter of Sherlock Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: I was looking for a book where I knew pretty much what I was letting myself in for and that is exactly what I got. And yet it still managed to make me think. I’ll get to that in a minute.

This series, at least so far, is part of a group of series that take the Holmes canon that we know and twist it in, not exactly a feminist direction – although that can be part of it – but in a direction that provides a thinking woman’s perspective on what was originally an all-male preserve.

So there’s a kinship between Mary Russell (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), Charlotte Holmes (A Study in Scarlet Women) and Joanna Blalock in that all of them use the canon as the way of telling another story entirely, a story that still works while eliminating the air of white male exclusivity and yes, privilege, that surrounds the original stories.

(The marvelous Mycroft and Sherlock series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse does the same kind of thing but in a different direction, by inserting into the narrative a young Mycroft’s friend and frequent detecting partner, the older, somewhat calmer and generally more dispassionate Cyrus Douglas, a black man from Trinidad.)

All of which means that if you enjoy Holmes well enough to like one of these series, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy some of the others. Without necessarily having to start at the beginning of any as the Holmes canon has permeated pop culture to the extent that we all know at least a tiny bit, even if only from The Great Mouse Detective.

But that change in perspective, as well as the change in time period both for the story and for the author writing it, makes us see some things in a new way. Particularly when reminded of the fact that Conan Doyle wrote the originals as contemporary stories. He was living the times he was writing about. The pastiches that have followed have become historical because the Victorian era that Holmes and Doyle lived in has retreated from us further every year.

So, as much as I enjoyed this foray into a variation of Holmes that tries its best to be both different and the same at the same time, I found myself thinking about some things that felt meta rather than about the book in my hand.

What struck me was the attitude towards the German agents who had kidnapped Ainsworth. There is a tendency in times of war to dehumanize the enemy in order to justify the war and all the things that happen within it. But the perspective of Germans as a race rather than a nationality, and the way that national characteristics had become easy stereotypes felt both logical for their time and place AND sat uneasily at the same time. It reminded me that in the original stories, Holmes and Watson are creatures of their time, with all of the racism and sexism and plenty of other terrible -isms that were part of that era. I was painfully aware that I wanted them to be better because they are characters that I love, but that they were not, no matter how much more recent adaptations have tried to ameliorate or eliminate those tendencies.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading this one, except for the above niggles. I found it to be – while not as utterly absorbing as the first book in the series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, considerably better and more original than the second, A Study in Treason. I’ll certain be back for The Art of Deception when I’m next in the mood for a taste of Sherlock.