Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry ThomasA Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The game is afoot as Charlotte Holmes returns in the atmospheric second novel in New York Times bestseller Sherry Thomas's Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series.
Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.
Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.
In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

My Review:

I actually read this book a couple of weeks ago, when the Sherlock Holmes book I was planning to read kind of fell through, but I still had a taste for Holmes. So I dove through the towering TBR pile and emerged with A Conspiracy in Belgravia, the second Lady Sherlock book after last fall’s fascinating A Study in Scarlet Women.

While I am familiar enough with the Holmes canon to play spot the analog between a pastiche series like Lady Sherlock and the original, I certainly don’t have it memorized. So as obvious as it was that A Study in Scarlet Women was a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, the derivation of the title of A Conspiracy in Belgravia was much less obvious. As much as it sounds to the ear like A Scandal in Bohemia, the stories are not related. Although, now that I think about it, A Conspiracy in Belgravia does contain hints of The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.

So a puzzle for another time. Meanwhile, we have the conundrums that Charlotte Holmes and her associates have run across within the rather tony and well-to-do precincts of Belgravia. And, while Charlotte investigates not one but two separate mysteries, she is also mulling over a tempting marriage proposal from Lord Bancroft. The proposal is not tempting because of the man himself, but rather for the sheer number of problems that marriage to him will solve.

None of which resolve the largest dilemma that this proposal creates – that Charlotte Holmes is in love, if that phrase can be used for someone who is usually much more brain than emotion, with the man’s brother Lord Ingram. To add to the difficulties involved, Lord Ingram finally figured out that he is in love with Charlotte. Unfortunately for both of them, this discovery occurred well after his marriage to someone else. That it has become obvious over time that Lady Ingram only married him for his money makes the situation all that much more melodramatic and tragic.

Especially when Lady Ingram calls upon “Sherlock Holmes” so that the detective may discover the whereabouts of her former lover – a man who also happens to be Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother.

When the puzzles that Lord Bancroft (who is definitely the analog to Mycroft in this pastiche) run into Charlotte’s commission from Lady Ingram, the intertwining conundrums begin to test even the mettle of Sherlock Holmes. Can she remain free, save her sisters and get to the bottom of all the conspiracies before it is too late?

Only Sherlock Holmes has the capacity to reveal the depths of this conspiracy. But can she? And, in the end, should she?

Escape Rating B: I’m a bit on the fence about this one, and for some of the same issues that were raised by the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women. One of the issues with historical fiction is where the author draws the line between making the female protagonist relatable to a 21st century reader and making sure that the character fits plausibly within her time period. If she’s not relatable enough, readers lose interest. If she’s too much a part of her time, the odds are unfortunately all too likely that her activities will be too restricted to make her the heroine of her own story.

With a Holmes pastiche, even one that plays as much havoc with the original characters as this one, taking Holmes too far away from the character we know and love, creates a third crevasse into which the story can fall.

One of the things that the author has done with this series has been to make Charlotte an unconventional creature of her times. While she may have a singular genius, the world treats her the way all women are treated – her movements are often restricted, she must hide behind her fictitious brother, the police inspector she assists resents her assistance because she is a woman, and her parents have the right to kidnap her off the streets, while the establishment will consider that a job well done.

The dilemma of Lord Bancroft’s marriage proposal is very real. She would regain respectability, her parents would leave her alone, and she can rescue both of her sisters, who very much do need rescuing. But marriage would give Lord Bancroft the right to control her movements and her activities. He has already said that he would not allow her to continue practicing as Sherlock Holmes. While his position as this world’s Mycroft means that he does have fascinating puzzles for her to solve, she knows that marriage sacrifices her happiness and merely her right to be her own person and make her own decisions for a safety that can be restricted or removed at any turn.

Charlotte’s relationship with Lord Ingram also gives me pause. With the notable exception of Laurie R. King’s utterly marvelous Holmes/Russell series, Holmes’ name and the word romance are seldom mentioned in the same breath. Or even in the same paragraph. For someone who so singularly knows her own mind, and gives it precedence over every other facet of her existence, Charlotte’s confused feelings about Lord Ingram don’t quite ring true for Charlotte as Holmes. If it is an attempt to make her seem, at least in this one aspect, more typically feminine, it falls a bit flat for this reader.

None of the above is to say that I did not enjoy A Conspiracy in Belgravia and this alternate vision of Sherlock Holmes, because the intricacies of the mystery were quite entertaining. The revelation of the mastermind behind events was both a surprise and not, as this personage could be expected to appear in some form in this series. But the way that events maneuvered around to the revelation were a pleasant surprise for the reader, and an unpleasant surprise for the characters.

As it should be.

Review: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard GoldbergThe Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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1910. Joanna Blalock unknowingly is the product of a sole assignation between the late Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. After the nurse and her ten-year-old son see a man fall to his death in an apparent suicide, elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming handsome son Dr. John Watson Jr. invite her to join their detective team. From hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, the group devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging Scotland Yard the British aristocracy.

My Review:

This book is absolutely charming, and I was utterly charmed.

The title does give just a bit of it away, as well as the reason why I picked it up in the first place. I find Sherlock Holmes pastiches completely irresistible, and with that title, well, it couldn’t be anything but. The protagonists of this lovely little mystery are the esteemed Dr. John H. Watson, friend and chronicler of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, his son, John H. Watson the younger, also a physician, and Mrs. Joanna Blalock, the aforementioned daughter of the, by this point in time, late and very Great Detective.

This is story for those who love the Holmes stories, but don’t mind playing a bit with the stories and the characters. While the mystery itself is a callback both to The Adventure of the Dancing Men and particularly to The Adventure of the Empty House. This case in our present story parallels much of Empty House, most especially in their villains. Just as our detective is Holmes’ daughter, our villain is Sebastian Moran’s son.

And Inspector Lestrade’s son is now himself a Scotland Yard detective. And the son is just as willing to let an easy solution lay, and to allow Holmes’ daughter to solve the case while he takes the official credit, as ever his father was with hers.

Some things never change, and that is definitely part of the charm of this story.

The case itself stems from the Second Afghan War, where Watson Sr. and both Morans served. (A war that seems to never end. Dr. Watson in the contemporary Sherlock series was also wounded in the Afghan War).

But in this case, a young man appears to have committed suicide while playing cards with Dr. Christopher Moran, and losing disastrously. His family does not believe that it was suicide, even though they absolutely cannot believe that their son’s good friend Dr. Moran could possibly have had anything to do with it.

Mrs. Joanna Blalock, a friend of the family, finds herself at Dr. Watson’s door, which is still 221b Baker Street, in search of assistance with the case. Watson knows precisely who she is, and is more than willing to assist her in her endeavors, first by cudgeling his memory, and second by assisting her with her case – with the help of his son, who is smitten with the young widow.

As the case unravels we follow this intrepid trio, as chronicled by Dr. Watson the younger, as they form a tight-knit partnership and eventually solve this string of terrible murders that would have all passed as accidents without their timely assistance.

The case is a worthy successor to the canon from which it sprang.

Escape Rating A-: This was the right book at the right time. The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes was calling my name from the top of my TBR pile, and I simply decided to answer the call. I fell right into this Edwardian continuation of the Holmes stories, and I sincerely hope that there are more.

As far as the Holmes canon goes, it has to be said that this story ignores the events of His Last Bow, the final Sherlock Holmes story which is set on the eve of the First World War. The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes is set in 1910, and by this point in its history, Holmes has been dead for several years.

But one part of the canon that is surprisingly tastefully handled is the birth, or rather the creation, of his daughter Joanna. Yes, Irene Adler was her mother. It’s nearly always Irene Adler when someone tries to continue the Holmes tradition by providing him with a child. The problem is that Holmes in the original stories is such a cold and seemingly unemotional character. It is difficult to imagine that thinking machine indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, let alone having a torrid, or even a tepid, affair.

The problem is often handled by changing some of the nature of Holmes, making the actual person of Holmes a considerably warmer character than the fictional version, and this is not implausible. The author of this story takes another tack. Here, we have Joanna as essentially the product of a one-night stand between two lonely people who mostly valued each other for their minds. It feels more plausible than some of the other possibilities.

One of the other parts of the story that is handled well is the inclusion of both Drs. Watson. Watson Sr. is in his 80s, and time and age are catching up to him. But he lives at 221b and occasionally helps people who still drop by searching for Holmes. It is not an attempt to recapture past glory. Instead, as he says himself, it is out of a desire to remain relevant. The case presented by Joanna Blalock provides him with that. It takes all three of them to solve this puzzle and Watson Sr. feels not merely relevant, but invigorated. It was good to see this often undersung sidekick get one last chance to shine.

I truly hope that this is the start of a series, because I want MORE!

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay FayeThe Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 388
Published by Mysterious Press on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.
Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

My Review:

I have an often-confessed penchant for Sherlock Holmes pastiches. As a consequence, I’ve read a lot of them. Some take the Holmes canon into entirely different directions, like Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, or Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series. Others serve to either extend the existing canon or act as homages to it, attempting to recreate the style and the period of Conan Doyle’s original work, using his immortal characters and merely telling us new stories in the same spirit.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeOne of the best of the latter type that I have read was Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. In that story, she relates the investigation of the Jack the Ripper case as conducted by Sherlock Holmes and documented by his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson. If you have any interest either in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or late Victorian-set historical fiction, this book is a winner on all fronts.

I’ve been hoping for years that the author would return to Holmes, and she finally has in The Whole Art of Detection. Unlike the recent collaborative collections of Holmes pastiches edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, which do contain some marvelous stories each time, The Whole Art of Detection is the output of a single mind, just as the original Holmes canon was. And also like the canon, all of the stories in The Whole Art of Detection are set in Holmes’ native Victorian age, and for the most part purport to be written by Dr. John Watson in his inimitable style.

And it feels as if we are back there again. These stories feel like the familiar Holmes. They read as though they are part of the whole, merely a part that has been hidden until now. It is marvelous to immerse oneself back in that time and place, and with these two singular characters.

As much as I enjoyed the whole book, the stories that I loved the most were the two that were not told as stories, but as diary entries. It is clear within the stories that Watson is writing for his audience in The Strand Magazine, but in An Empty House we get to read a bit of Watson’s personal diary during March and April of 1894. At that time, Watson was recovering from the recent death of his wife Mary, and still dealing with the death of his friend Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls three years earlier. Watson’s method of dealing with Holmes’ death was to continue writing up their previous cases, as he is still doing within the pages of his diary. As a method for handling the stages of grief, neither the reader nor Watson himself is certain of its efficacy. And it is completely insufficient for helping him to handle his feelings about Mary’s recent passing. So we read Watson in his internal travails, his and his friends’ attempts to help him, and his resolution to finally quit England and his memories altogether. And then a miracle occurs.

In Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, on the other hand, we have a rare case narrated by Holmes himself. Like all the cases in The Whole Art of Detection, this case is firmly set not just within the original canon, but at a specific point within that canon. In this case, we see what Holmes was doing in September of 1888 when he sent Watson to Baskerville Hall ahead of him. In addition to viewing Holmes’ rather non-traditional resolution of this case, we also have the opportunity to read Holmes’ own thoughts and feelings about this case, the Baskerville mess, and his thoughts about his friendship with Watson and the fame that has resulted from Watson’s publications. It is a fascinating peek into a mind that we normally only see from the outside.

Escape Rating A: As is clear, I loved this book and had an utterly marvelous time dipping back into the adventures of Holmes and Watson. While many of these stories have been published before, this is the first time that they have all been gathered together. And there are a lot of them, so hunting them all down would be a task almost worthy of Holmes himself.

Just like Dust and Shadow, this collection gives the reader the feeling that we are back there again at 221B, sitting invisibly by their fireplace and listening to them discuss their cases. Like the original canon, these are all cracking good stories, and they run the gamut of the strange, the unusual, the criminal and the bizarre that the originals did.

As a 21st century reader, I have a sense that there is a bit more acknowledgement of the true depths of their friendship than was true in the originals. But I might be mistaken about that. I guess I’ll have to go back and read them again. Something to anticipate with great pleasure.

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry ThomasA Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas turns the story of the renowned Sherlock Holmes upside down…   With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.   When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

My Review:

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so when I saw the eARC of A Study in Scarlet Women, I was instantly intrigued. Sherlock Holmes has been adapted in so many different directions, from the very different modern TV incarnations of Sherlock and Elementary to the slightly off-tangent House to the married Holmes in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series along with the fantasy version in the late Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series and Neil Gaiman’s award-winning A Study in Emerald.

While there was a well-known series by Carole Nelson Douglas that features Irene Adler (“the woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia) as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective, I’ll admit that I can’t find a citation for an actual female Holmes, although I know I’ve read them.

A Study in Scarlet Women is just that – it posits Sherlock Holmes as a woman who uses Sherlock Holmes as a nom-de-guerre to shroud her work in an air of mystery, and to keep both the police and the criminal element from dismissing her as merely a female. The rendering of Sherlock Holmes, nee Charlotte Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet Women is contemporaneous with the original Sherlock Holmes canon. One of the elements that is both fascinating and frustrating about A Study in Scarlet Women is that Charlotte Holmes does not feel anachronistic to her era at all. She is forced to deal with all of the prejudices and restrictions that surrounded young women of that era, and find a way around them.

While she does get a bit luckier than is probably likely, even her solutions fit within the time-frame. She hides who she really is behind a fictional “brother”, and conducts many of her consultations via the post, the better to hide her physical self.

Part of the frustration in this book is that those restrictions were very, well, restrictive. Charlotte’s solution to the problem of getting out from under her parents’ control while not putting herself under the control of a husband is ingenious. She reckons with all of the consequences to herself, but neglects to factor murder into her calculations. Not that she committed one, nor has anyone in her family, but that her disgrace gives her sister and her parents a reason to commit one, and puts them under suspicion of having done so.

Her first case arises from a need to clear their names, as well as to see justice done.

There is a Watson, and her origins (yes, her) are even more fascinating than Holmes, both in the ways that they do and do not follow the original character. Mrs. Watson, a well-to-do widow, comes to Charlotte’s rescue when she is at her most desperate, and finds a common cause and a new lease on life assisting in Charlotte’s investigations.

Where Dr. John Watson was a veteran of the Afghan war, Mrs. John Watson is the widow of an Army doctor who was killed in, of course, the Afghan War. However, Mrs. Watson, nee Joanna Hamish Redmayne, is also a former actress and retired denizen of the demimondaine, and therefore a scarlet woman. As is Charlotte, who arranged to have herself “ruined” to escape the strictures of upper-middle-class respectable and restricted womanhood.

It is these two scarlet women, with the help of Charlotte’s somewhat reluctant childhood friend, and an even more desperate police detective, who discover the link between a series of seemingly unrelated murders, and get Charlotte’s family off-the-hook.

It is the beginning of what I hope will be a brilliant career for Charlotte, make that Sherlock, Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, this story is both fun and frustrating, sometimes in equal measure. Because it posits a female Sherlock Holmes during the Victorian Era, the character and the reader are forced to deal with the upper-class-Victorian restrictions on women’s, particularly young women’s, lives and movements. The first third of the book has to feature Charlotte’s solution to this particular quagmire, and its immediate consequences. It’s a situation that shows Charlotte’s resolution and self-knowledge, but for 21st century readers it’s fairly ugly. It feels realistic, but no fun at all to read through.

And we need to see the consequences of Charlotte’s tough decisions and all of their unfortunate direct consequences for Charlotte until she very nearly hits rock-bottom. It’s only at that point that she is rescued by the equally unconventional Mrs. Watson, and her story really begins.

Because Watson in this case is older and has more experience of the world, Holmes and Watson are much more nearly equal than some of the popular misconceptions about the pair. This Watson is no dunderhead. She is not the genius that Holmes is, but her acting ability, knowledge of the social strata and ability to understand people makes her a partner rather than a mere sidekick. Especially since Mrs. Watson provides the initial funds for the entire enterprise!

As the story unfolds, the reader gets to play a game of “spot the character” as we determine who in this new version is playing the parts that are familiar from the original canon. For example, the author of the stories will not be Watson, but Charlotte’s sister. It’s a fun game and I enjoyed figuring out who was who.

The case was every bit as convoluted, and the solution every bit as difficult, as any of the original Holmes’ cases. The clues may be there from the beginning, but determining whodunnit and why is an effort that takes both Charlotte and the reader the entire story.

One part of A Study in Scarlet Women troubles me just a bit. As is famously known, the original Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no truck with emotion of any kind. Until the version of Holmes portrayed in the Mary Russell stories, Holmes and romance have seemed to be, not merely on different continents, but on far distant planets from one another.

There is not exactly a romance in A Study in Scarlet Women, but there’s not exactly not one either. Charlotte’s childhood friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton, is clearly the man she should have married. And very much vice-versa. But they didn’t realize it until much too late, after Ingram was not only married but had discovered that his wife had only married him for his money and title. It is not a happy marriage, or even a companionable one. But Ingram is an honorable man, perhaps to a fault. The amount of unresolved sexual tension between Ingram and Charlotte is enough to light London for a month through a pea-souper fog. I wonder how this conundrum will get resolved as the series continued.

I wonder even more why it was necessary to introduce a romantic element for Holmes in the first place. Hopefully we’ll see in future entries in the series.

Review: Echoes of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: Echoes of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerEchoes of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Pages: 368
Published by Pegasus Books on October 4th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this follow-up to the acclaimed In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, expert Sherlockians Laurie King and Les Klinger put forth the question: What happens when great writers/creators who are not known as Sherlock Holmes devotees admit to being inspired by Conan Doyle stories? While some are highly-regarded mystery writers, others are best known for their work in the fields of fantasy or science fiction. All of these talented authors, however, share a great admiration for Arthur Conan Doyle and his greatest creations, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
To the editors’ great delight, these stories go in many directions. Some explore the spirit of Holmes himself; others tell of detectives themselves inspired by Holmes’s adventures or methods. A young boy becomes a detective; a young woman sharpens her investigative skills; an aging actress and a housemaid each find that they have unexpected talents. Other characters from the Holmes stories are explored, and even non-Holmesian tales by Conan Doyle are echoed. The variations are endless!
Although not a formal collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories—however some do fit that mold—instead these writers were asked to be inspired by the Conan Doyle canon. The results are breathtaking, for fans of Holmes and Watson as well as readers new to Doyle’s writing—indeed, for all readers who love exceptional storytelling.

My Review:

in the company of sherlock holmes edited by laurie r king and leslie s klingerThis collection is the third editorial collaboration of Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger of newly commissioned tales that fall somewhere in the Sherlock Holmes tradition, if not the Holmes canon. Like the previous collections, A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, this outing too is a mixed bag. Some stories are memorable, some stories are wonderful. A few are both. And then there are some that either just didn’t move me or didn’t really feel like they belonged in this particular collection.

I do have several favorites this time around, more than in Company.

Where There is Honey by Dana Cameron drew me in because it feels like a somewhat earthier version of the real Holmes canon. Partly because of the Victorian era reluctance to deal with the earthier and seamier side of life, Holmes often comes off as a plaster saint, either a bit too good or a bit too unworldly to be true. The versions of Holmes and Watson in Cameron’s story feel more like real men, who have real bodies and face real emotional issues. Watson here clearly has PTSD that he keeps at bay through writing, at least some of the time, and likes a good fight. In this story Holmes is every bit as annoying as he can be, but also worries about paying his half of the rent, or Watson sometimes does that for him. The case is complex and nasty in its way, and our heroes enjoy providing the villains’ comeuppance. But they feel real.

Tasha Alexander’s Before a Bohemian Scandal reads like a story that wasn’t in the canon but should have been. In this story, we see Irene Adler’s affair with the Crown Prince of Bohemia from its starry-eyed beginning to its cold-hearted end. It’s impossible not to sympathize with Irene’s predicament, and to see just how nasty a man the future King of Bohemia turns out to be. This story is not just good on its own, but also gives depth to the canon story of A Scandal in Bohemia.

The Adventure of the Empty Grave by Jonathan Maberry is another story that could easily be encompassed by the original canon. It takes place during the Great Hiatus between Reichenbach Falls and The Adventure of the Empty House. In this tale a grief-stricken Watson visits Holmes’ empty grave and encounters a most surprising visitor – a man claiming to be the elderly C. Auguste Dupin, the living inspiration for the detective creation of Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin eventually convinces a skeptical Watson both of his reality and his purpose – to warn Watson that even though Moriarty is dead, his criminal enterprise is not. When Dupin disappears in the end, leaving behind the accouterments of his disguise, both the reader and Watson are left to wonder if he was a ghost after all, or a disguised visit from an absent friend.

Several of the stories in this collection are meta in one way or another. Holmes on the Range by John Connolly posits a library straight out of The Eyre Affair, where fictional characters retire to live out their “lives” after their authorial creators have died. The librarian is perplexed when Sherlock Holmes appears after the publication of The Final Problem and alarmed when Holmes is resurrected in The Adventure of the Empty House but also continues to inhabit this very special library. He fears the arrival of a second Holmes upon the eventual death of his author, and fears that having two of the same character will do irreparable harm to the delicate balance that allows the library to exist.

In Raffa by Anne Perry, an actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in one of the inevitable revivals finds himself attempting to serve as the “real” Holmes when called upon by a very desperate and very, very young “client”. Watching the actor become absorbed in the part of Holmes, and his part as rescuer, makes for a lovely little story.

Of the stories where a detective who is very definitely not Holmes uses Holmes’ methods to solve a case, my favorite is definitely Martin X by Gary Phillips. I loved this one because it transplants the methods and a bit of Holmes’ personality to a time, place and person who would initially be assumed to be as far from Holmes as possible. “Dock” Watson is a black private detective, occasional bodyguard and sometimes intelligence officer who is called to investigate the death of a fictional heir to Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. It is 1976 and New York City is still reeling from the “Son of Sam” murders. J. Edgar Hoover may be dead, but his heirs and his methods are still running the FBI, and are still conducting dirty tricks campaigns against the leaders of any movement that twisted brain found suspect – especially the Black Power movement. This Watson finds himself investigating not just the murder of a leader, but also the concerted effort by someone to make sure that the void in leadership stays void – by any means necessary. An undercover Sherlock Holmes, along with Watson, discover a chain of criminality that leads from street gangs in Harlem to someone very dirty in the CIA. This was a terrific story that made me wish there were more. Lots, lots more.

study in sherlock by king and klingerEscape Rating B+: This collection was every bit as good as the first one, A Study in Sherlock. Most of the stories here were at least enjoyable, if not memorable. And there were only a couple that either didn’t feel remotely Holmesian or just didn’t work for me. I hope there will be another editorial collaboration in this series, because each book introduced me either to new perspectives on Holmes, or new authors of mystery.

As a final note, I’m haunted by Cory Doctorow’s The Adventure of the Extraordinary Rendition. This tale of a 21st century Holmes up against the modern security state embodied by his brother Mycroft felt all too possible. And all too frightening because of it.

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King + Giveaway

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King + GiveawayThe Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell, #14) by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #14
Pages: 384
Published by Bantam on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Laurie R. King’s bestselling Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes series weaves rich historical detail and provocative themes with intriguing characters and enthralling suspense. Russell and Holmes have become one of modern literature’s most beloved teams. But does this adventure end it all?

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond.

And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson.

Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

The key to Russell’s sacrifice lies in Mrs. Hudson’s past. To uncover the truth, a frantic Sherlock Holmes must put aside his anguish and push deep into his housekeeper’s secrets—to a time before her disguise was assumed, before her crimes were buried away.

There is death here, and murder, and trust betrayed.

And nothing will ever be the same.

My Review:

This book felt like two stories for the price of one. With part of a third thrown in for added body and spice.

The first 55% of this book details the life of times of Mrs. Hudson before she became Mrs. Hudson. In the Holmes’ Canon, Mrs. Hudson springs fully-formed, as if from the Head of Zeus. Or Arthur Conan Doyle. In the first half of The Murder of Mary Russell, we finally get to know who she was before she became Holmes’ and Watson’s mostly unflappable landlady – and what a story it is.

As Mary finally discovers, the woman that Clara Hudson really is, well, is a much different person than the one that Mary has loved and taken for granted these last ten years. We never see our parental figures as they see themselves, but Mrs. Hudson’s revelations are much more of a surprise than the usual. Then again, little turns out to be usual in Sherlock Holmes’ and Mary Russell’s world.

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", which appeared in The Strand Magazine in April, 1893. Original caption was "'HUDSON IT IS, SIR,' SAID THE SEAMAN."
Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”, which appeared in The Strand Magazine in April, 1893. Original caption was “‘HUDSON IT IS, SIR,’ SAID THE SEAMAN.”

But as we read about Clara’s early life, and as Mary eventually discovers, beneath the plaster saint that Mary has somewhat assumed Mrs. Hudson to be, there beats the heart of an adventuress.

In addition to the story of Mrs. Hudson’s early life, and the true tale of how she first met the young Sherlock Holmes, we also dive back into Holmes’ first case, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott. A whole lot of people get much-needed closure in this old case of bank fraud, mutiny and murder on the high seas, and blackmail.

But the resolution of that old case is part of the second half of the story, as Mrs. Hudson’s former life comes crashing into her current life, with nearly devastating results for everyone involved. When the smoke clears, a life is over.

Escape Rating A-: The Murder of Mary Russell, in spite of its alarming title, does not appear to be the end of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. But it certainly closes a chapter.

beekeepers apprentice by laurie r king new coverIt is also not the best place to start the series. If you have not had the pleasure, I enthusiastically recommend starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, where Sherlock Holmes meets a 15-year old orphan on the Sussex Downs, and first mistakes her for a boy. And second takes her as his apprentice.

But The Murder of Mary Russell does reach back into the past, and a past long before Mary herself comes into the picture. The story of Mrs. Hudson’s early life, while incredibly illuminating as regards a central figure in both the original stories and the Russell Kanon, just doesn’t have the same flair as is usual for this series. The complete and often sad story is necessary for the rest of the book, but it just doesn’t “sing”, or maybe that’s “zing” the way that Russell and Holmes usually do when they are together. When a very young Sherlock Holmes enters the story, just past the halfway point, the book suddenly picks up the dramatic pace, much as Holmes runs non-stop when he’s on the scent.

In other words, the first half of the story was interesting but a bit slow. The second half ran away with me, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished. Once all the players are finally together, the game is not merely afoot, but seems to sprint towards its climactic finish. The story, and the life and times of Mrs. Clara Hudson, wrap themselves up with both a literal and figurative “bang”.

For those who have followed this series from its beginnings, the end of this book, and the end of this chapter in all of their lives, is surprising and satisfying and sets the stage gloriously for more adventures yet to come.

I can hardly wait.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

This is my birthday book. As in, when I saw the release date, I just about squeed in delight, because I have been waiting for this next book in the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series since the minute I finished the previous book, Dreaming Spies, last year. Because my birthday just happens to fall on a Tuesday, The Murder of Mary Russell is being released on my birthday. And what a marvelous present it turned out to be!

As part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, the publisher agreed to let me give away a copy of The Murder of Mary Russell to one lucky U.S. commenter. I love this series and hope that you do, or will, too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stacking the Shelves (148)

Stacking the Shelves

I felt like I spent most of this week resisting temptation, and looking at this list, I clearly succeeded. However, we are on our way to WorldCon in Spokane this week, and I fear I will not be able to resist the tables in the dealer’s room. Or the opportunity to get books signed by some of my favorite authors.

What I truly fear is watching the Hugo Awards Ceremony turn into a train wreck, but I can still hope that it won’t.

For Review:
Down the Rabbit Hole by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas, R.C. Ryan
Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan

Purchased from Amazon:
Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R. King

 

Review: The Case of the Invisible Dog by Diane Stingley + Giveaway

case of the invisible dog by Diane stingleyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: Shirley Homes #1
Length: 328 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: May 19, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

After failing to launch her career as a Hollywood actress, Tammy Norman returns home to North Carolina, desperate for a regular paycheck and a new lease on life. So she accepts a position assisting Shirley Homes, an exceptionally odd personage who styles herself after her celebrated “ancestor”–right down to the ridiculous hat. Tammy isn’t sure how long she can go on indulging the delusional Shirley (who honestly believes Sherlock Holmes was a real person!), but with the prospect of unemployment looming, she decides to give it a shot.

Tammy’s impression of her eccentric boss does not improve when their first case involves midnight romps through strangers’ yards in pursuit of a phantom dog—that only their client can hear. But when the case takes a sudden and sinister turn, Tammy has to admit that Shirley Homes might actually be on to something. . . .

My Review:

Somewhere at the corner of quirky and delusional lives Shirley Homes and her questionable belief that she is the great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes – the fictionality of his existence notwithstanding. Of course, Shirley believes that he was real, because fictional characters don’t have children, let alone great-great-grandchildren.

Whether Shirley is eccentric or downright insane is up to the reader to judge. In her world, everyone seems to have decided that she is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. But is she?

The person most concerned about that question is Tamara Norman. Tammy has taken on the job of Shirley Homes’ assistant. While at first it seems as if the job consists of collecting a very nice paycheck for providing a presence that helps prop up Homes’ delusion, the situation changes when they get a real case.

Where Sherlock Holmes had “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” Shirley Homes has the case of the barking dog who isn’t there.

It’s pretty obvious that someone is gaslighting their client, Matt Peterman. As soon as he goes to sleep every night, he hears a dog barking outside. But when he gets up to look, the dog stops barking. And there is no dog.

What there is are some new and very smarmy neighbors, and a lot of vacant houses. It’s the depths of the Great Recession, in North Carolina and everywhere else, and Matt lives in a development that isn’t selling.

So why is this happening?

Tammy Norman thinks that Matt is just a lonely crank, until he turns up dead the day after he hires them. Whatever is going on with the ‘invisible dog’, someone wanted the man dead. But the reasons are obscure, and the local police are convinced that Shirley Homes is a complete nutter. Let’s just say the police interview didn’t go well, although by that point Tammy (and the readers) are all too aware that it went typically for any conversation with Shirley.

While Shirley is the catalyst for everything that happens, Tammy is the person who really sinks her teeth into the case, even though she doesn’t want to. She’s sure Shirley is harmlessly nuts, but starts feeling protective of her boss, even as she thinks that the woman needs a keeper and not an assistant.

Although the case reaches for more and deeper levels of ‘slightly out there’, at the same time there is still a case. Matt Peterman is still dead. His ex-wife is trying to grab whatever assets he might have had. Those smarmy neighbors watch every move that takes place in his house, and someone is cleaning up every scrap of evidence that Shirley and Tammy find as soon as they find it.

Tammy finds herself learning how to be a detective from possibly the worst teacher ever. But she can’t help getting involved and wanting to get to the bottom of the case.

As a former actress, Tammy finally hits paydirt when she follows the precepts of her favorite TV show – Law and Order. Tammy starts following the money. And digs up not just dirt, but also a powerful enemy who has been manipulating events in Shirley’s life from the very beginning.

Can there be a Holmes without a Moriarty?

Escape Rating B-: I’m pretty sure this is the quirkiest Sherlock Holmes spin-off I’ve ever read, and I’ve read some dillies. This one takes the prize.

You’re never sure whether Shirley Homes is delusional or telling the truth. It’s not just that her contention that she is a descendant of the original Holmes is impossible because he was fictional, but even he was real, her portrayal isn’t Holmes, it’s a caricature of Holmes.

Holmes used every scrap of technology available to him at the time. Not because he worshiped technology, but because it was efficient and effective. A modern-day version would have adapted, not attempted to slavishly adhere to 19th century practices as much as possible. For example, Holmes often found cases by combing through the personal ads and agony columns in the newspaper. Today, most of that information and angst is in social media.

However, the parallels are striking. The detective isn’t just “Shirley Homes”, but her sister Myra bears a striking resemblance to Mycroft. And there appears to be a Moriarty, the question is who?

There is someone who seems to have the agenda of spying on Homes at every turn, even pretending to be a psychiatrist in order to pump Tammy for information. And she’s not the only contender for the position of Moriarty. Or is she?

And there really is a case. While there is no invisible dog, someone was using Matt Peterman’s fear of dogs to gaslight him for some nefarious purpose.

At the same time, this case has the feel of the movies The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and especially Without A Clue. In Without a Clue, Holmes the bumbling idiot is merely a front man for the real detective genius of Dr. John Watson. It also feels like a bit of They Might be Giants was added for spice.

While Tamara Norman is no detective genius, she is intelligent, sensible and grounded in the real world of the 21st century. It is her effort to keep Shirley Homes on track and out of too much trouble that eventually solves the mystery of the invisible dog, even as it pulls them all much deeper into the mystery of ‘Who is Shirley Homes?”

If you like your cozy mysteries with more than a touch of madcap, The Case of the Invisible Dog is a lark.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift Card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice plus an eBook copy of THE CASE OF THE INVISIBLE DOG.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-12-15

Sunday Post

You still have a few hours left to enter my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration Giveaway. I’m giving away four(4!) $10 gift cards or books, so that’s four chances to win. But time is running out!

The big piece of bookish news this week has been the continuing fracas over the nominee slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. If you are looking for balanced coverage of the mess, take a look at either George R.R. Martin’s Not a Blog entries or File 770’s posts. I am planning to attend WorldCon this year in Spokane, which means that yes, I was eligible to nominate. I’m glad that I did this year, even though very few of my nominations made it to the final ballot. I am definitely planning to vote. I think I’ve figured out what I’m going to do, but there are lots of thoughts still running around my head. This has been a big topic of discussion around our house this week. While it certainly makes the evening walks go faster, it is also an exhausting piece of chaos, and there are not going to be any winners at the end, possibly including whoever takes home the actual Hugo rockets. If anyone does.

I thought seriously about writing a blog post on this mess, but I have decided not to. What I wrote for my own amusement was cathartic but probably not helpful to anyone except me.

Besides, I believe that Robert A. Heinlein, who seems to be the patron saint of the Puppies, said it best in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for…but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

In the meantime, here is what’s happening on Reading Reality…

blogo-birthday-april6Current Giveaways:

Four $10 gift cards or books in my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration!

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 bookish prize in the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop is Danielle S.
The winner of a paperback copy of Never Too Late by Robyn Carr is Natasha D.

doc by maria doria russellBlog Recap:

4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway
B+ Review: Wildfire at Larch Creek by M.L. Buchman
B+ Review: The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
C Review: Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann
A- Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Stacking the Shelves (130)

 

 

 

bookseller by cynthia swansonComing Next Week:

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg (blog tour review)
The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (blog tour review)
One Bite Per Night by Brooklyn Ann (review)
BiblioTech by John Palfrey (review)
Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin O’Connell (blog tour review)

Review: The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

fifth heart by dan simmonsFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Length: 618 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date Released: March 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Henry James come to America together to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of the esteemed historian Henry Adams–member of the Adams family that has given the United States two Presidents. Clover’s suicide appears to be more than it at first seemed; the suspected foul play may involve matters of national importance.

Holmes is currently on his Great Hiatus–his three-year absence after Reichenbach Falls during which time the people of London believe him to be deceased. Holmes has faked his own death because, through his powers of ratiocination, the great detective has come to the conclusion that he is a fictional character.

This leads to serious complications for James–for if his esteemed fellow investigator is merely a work of fiction, what does that make him? And what can the master storyteller do to fight against the sinister power — possibly named Moriarty — that may or may not be controlling them from the shadows?

My Review:

The Fifth Heart is a lot of things packed into one rather long novel.

It is, first of all, one of the longest Sherlock Holmes pastiches I have ever read. It’s a very good 618 page book. It might have been better if there had been a bit less of it.

It is a historical mystery about the death of one Clover Adams in 1885. Was it suicide, or was it murder? As part of conniving his way into the social circle in which Clover Adams moved, Holmes’ case takes on some aspects of a late 19th century who’s who. Everyone who was anyone seems to have at least a cameo in the story.

It is also a meditation on the question, “What is REAL?” Holmes believes he is a fictional character rather than a real person, and this question haunts him throughout the book. What captured this reader is that his answer is not dissimilar to Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit.

I’ll get back to that.

Henry James in 1890
Henry James in 1890

The story of The Fifth Heart begins in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, in 1893. The very-real author Henry James, and the possibly fictional character Sherlock Holmes are both contemplating suicide. Instead, they embarrass each other enough to bring them both back from the edge.

They have something in common. One of James’ best friends, Clover Adams, committed suicide in 1885. Her brother retained Holmes to investigate her death and the strange calling cards that her close circle has received every year since on the anniversary of her death, claiming that she was murdered. And even though the man who hired him is himself now dead, when he meets Henry James Holmes decides to take up the long-ago case, using the famous author as his assistant and amanuensis in place of Dr. John Watson.

Holmes does this for two reasons – James will give him an easy entree into Clover Adams’ circle, and Watson thinks Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls just two years previously at the hands of Professor Moriarty. Holmes is travelling under the name Jan Sigerson in order to perpetuate this ruse.

Holmes is also struggling with the drug-induced revelation that he has no life outside his cases, leaving him with the conclusion that he is a creation of the writer’s brain and not a real person. When I say, “no life outside his cases”, I do not mean that his life has no meaning to him outside the cases, I mean that Holmes’ perception is that it doesn’t exist at all.

Of course, the idiot has switched from cocaine to morphine to heroin, so he may just be hallucinating. One wonders.

"Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893" by "Unidentified photographer" - http://flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/2575672248/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chicago_World%27s_Columbian_Exposition_1893.jpg#/media/File:Chicago_World%27s_Columbian_Exposition_1893.jpg
“Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition 1893” by “Unidentified photographer”

Holmes begins, with a reluctant James at his side, going to Washington DC to investigate Clover’s death. He is also, at the behest of his brother Mycroft and the British government, looking into a spate of anarchist plots and assassinations. It is believed that there will be an attempt on the life of President Grover Cleveland when he opens the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago later in the year.

For someone who might not be real, Holmes is a very busy man. He has to foil the plot, find the truth about Clover’s death, keep Henry James out of trouble, and deal with Irene Adler again, all in the space of a few short months.

The mystery of Clover Adams is easy for Holmes, although we don’t necessarily see everything he knows at the time. The foiling of the assassination attempt brings Holmes, along with Henry James, Henry Adams, John Hay and even Samuel Clemens to Chicago just in time to thwart the assassination and unveil the killer of Clover Adams – along with the truth about Moriarty and a secret that Holmes has long concealed.

Holmes just barely manages to prevent the White City, and the whole world, from turning crimson with blood. But is he real? Does it even matter?

Escape Rating B+: I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this book. It is a slow deep dive – at first, you’re not sure it’s going to be worth the time, and eventually, just like Henry James, you are swept into involvement with this incredible cast of characters and the long, slow immersion into the case.

The Five Hearts were all quite real. Henry James, the novelist best known for his classics The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady, was part of a salon organized by his friend Clover Adams. The other members of that salon were all well-known if not downright famous. Clover’s husband Henry Adams (the grandson of President John Quincy Adams and the great-grandson of President John Adams was a famous historian. John Hay was Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and Clarence King was a world-renowned explorer. Clover was the brittle light and the glue that held this band of friends together.

The events of her death as related in The Fifth Heart also mostly follow history. Where they divurge is the identity of the woman who helped discover her body. In history, this woman is not known, but in the novel, she is Irene Adler under a false name, who is covering for the involvement of her son in Clover’s death. Irene’s son Lucan Adler is an assassin, and Clover Adams was a photographer who took too many pictures.

So into this real-life mystery we have the interweaving of Holmes’ greatest mystery – his relationship with Irene Adler and its previously unknown results, as well as Adler’s own reasons for getting herself into this mess in the first place. There are wheels within wheels, some political, but many of a more personal nature.

Holmes speculates on the nature of his own reality while working to prevent the assassination. The progress of the case does resemble the way that Holmes so often leaves his associates in the dark while haring off in a direction that seems random but proves otherwise. The case is intended as a more “truthful” narrative than many of Watson’s as this case does not scruple to name all of its famous participants.

But the question that haunts Holmes throughout this long and sometimes drawn out investigation is the one that concerns his own existence. I likened his ultimate answer to The Velveteen Rabbit. For those who have forgotten this childhood classic, here is the relevant passage:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

In the end, Holmes concludes that while he may not have initially been REAL, he has become real because so many people have invested themselves in his stories. I don’t believe that he would say that they loved him into reality, because he would not use the word love, but rather, that their belief in him made him real after all.

As far as the story as a whole goes, I feel as if it would have been a tighter story if there had been just a bit less of it. I have the sense that the author may have been trying to mimic the writing style of the late 19th century and Henry James in particular, but I am not certain.

There is a huge parade of real historical figures in the book that feels a bit over the top. I have enough passing familiarity with late 19th century American history that I had heard of everyone except Clarence King. But it is lot of characters to keep straight, and some of one’s immersion into the story relied on knowing who everyone was and what their presence meant.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.