Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

My Review:

Welcome to my review of the biennual collection of Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. This is an every two years treat, as evidenced by my reviews of the previous collections in this quasi-series, A Study In Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

The stories in all of these collections were inspired by Holmes, one way or another, and are commissioned for the collections. And like all collections, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The game, however, is definitely afoot, both in stories that feel like they could be part of the original canon, and in stories that take their inspiration from the Great Detective without necessarily featuring him in either his Victorian guise or a more contemporary one.

I have several favorites in this year’s collection, one each to reflect the different aspects of Holmesiana that are represented here.

My favorite story in the manner of the master himself The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon. It takes place before the canon begins, when Mycroft is still working his way up the government ladder, and Sherlock, in his very early 20s, has not yet taken up rooms with Watson. And is not yet quite as sure of himself and his methods as he will later become. It actually fits quite nicely into the period between the excellent Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse, and the beginning of the official canon.in A Study in Scarlet.

In this story we see a very young Sherlock justifying his continuing presence in London to the consternation of his parents and the absolute chagrin of brother Mycroft by solving the case of a missing violinist and saving his brother’s life. This story also provides a rather lovely explanation for Sherlock’s acquisition of his famous Stradivarius.

This collection has relatively few Holmesian stories set in the Victorian era. Most are either modern variations of Holmes – or modern detectives, whether amateur or professional, who use Holmes’ methods.

Of the contemporary Holmes stories, I can’t decide between Hounded by Zoe Sharp and The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti. They are such completely different versions of the 21st century Holmes that choosing between them is impossible.

Hounded by Zoe Sharp is so much fun because it is a contemporary reworking of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It shows just how timeless the canon can be, by transplanting from the 19th century to the 21st and still making it all, including the ghostly hound, work.

The Ghost of the Lake, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of Holmes that owes a lot to both Elementary and Sherlock without feeling like an imitation of either. In this story, Sherlock Holmes is a 21st century operative for a secret British government department who has come to Chicago to prevent the kidnapping of an American national security specialist who has plenty of tricks up her own sleeve – and who is every bit Holmes’ equal in every way.

I liked, not only the portrayal of Holmes in this story, but also the character of Dr. Hester Regine. And I loved the trip down memory lane to Chicago, my favorite of all of the places that we have lived.

Last but not least, the story that took the phrase “inspired by Sherlock Holmes” to new heights. And depths. And several places in between. That would be The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner. This story both spoofs the love of Holmes and celebrates it at the same time, as its amateur detectives find themselves using Sherlock Holmes’ own methods to investigate a murder at a convention of Sherlock Holmes fans.

The story reminds me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, where an author is murdered at a science fiction convention – but if “Six Sherlocks” uses that book as a springboard, it’s a very light spring.

Even the idea of a cooking show featuring actors portraying Holmes and Watson is hilarious. But when someone murders “Holmes” at the Sherlock Holmes convention, there are too many pretend Sherlocks and nearly not enough real ones to crack the case. This one is a light and fun send up of fan conventions in general and Sherlock Holmes mania in particular as well as being a cute mystery.

Escape Rating B+: Overall I enjoyed this collection. There were a couple of stories that just weren’t quite my cuppa, and one or two where it felt like they were a bit too far off the Holmesian tangent to be in this collection.

I read it in a day, finding myself getting so caught up in each story that I almost finished before I knew it. If you like Holmes or Holmes-like or Holmes-lite stories, this collection is every bit as much of a treat as its predecessors.

Of all the stories in all these collections, the one that still haunts me is from the first one, A Study in Sherlock. It’s The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, and it’s the one that I still most want to be true.

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes LackeyThe Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #13
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.

The threat of Moriarty is gone--but so is Sherlock Holmes.

Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty's network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.

The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty's associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers--and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend--to bring the murderer to justice.

My Review:

The Bartered Brides is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, as was last week’s Mycroft and Sherlock. But in spite of the two stories having more or less the same starting point, the Holmes canon, they couldn’t be any more different in tone or even genre.

Mycroft and Sherlock was a fairly straightforward, albeit excellent, historical mystery. The Bartered Brides on the other hand puts Sherlock Holmes in the midst of a Victorian urban fantasy. This is a world in which magic explicitly works, although most people, including Holmes himself, are at best reluctant to believe in it.

Just because Holmes doesn’t believe in magic doesn’t mean that magic doesn’t believe in him. Particularly in the person of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s chronicler and partner-in-solving-crime. Because Watson is an Elemental Water Master who solves cases that go where Holmes mostly refuses to tread.

Although for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Holmes himself is conspicuously absent for most of this story. The Bartered Brides takes place at a well-known point in the official Holmes canon, after the events of Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty both fell to their purported deaths. And before the events of The Empty House where Holmes returns, not from death after all, but from a long sojourn around the world recovering from his wounds and mopping up the remainders of Moriarty’s criminal organization.

Unlike in the canon, Watson at least, as well as his wife Mary, know that Holmes is alive and on the hunt. Which means that they are also aware that Moriarty’s henchmen in London might very well be hunting them.

But in the meantime, Lestrade is desperate. He does not know that Holmes is still alive. All he knows is that the headless corpses of young women are washing up on the banks of the Thames. He is out of his depth – not atypical for Lestrade. But this case feels weird – and it is – so he calls in his best Holmes substitute, Dr. John Watson and the two young women who assist him with his magical cases, psychic Nan Killian and medium Sarah Lyon-White.

When even their best isn’t good enough, they consider dropping the case. Until an emergency meeting with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, representing Her Majesty’s government and Lord Alderscroft, and leader of London’s Elemental Masters convinces them to stay on the case.

They are both certain that this isn’t the usual kind of serial killer at work. Instead, this series of crimes looks like it’s right up the darker alleys of elemental mastery. Alderscroft in particular is beginning to believe that an Elemental Spirit Master has gone to the bad. And if there’s someone in London dabbling in the foul waters of necromancy he needs to get it stopped.

Nan and Sarah are also right. It would be too much like a bad farce for there to be both a gang of Moriarty’s henchmen out committing evil AND a gang of necromancer’s assistants out doing evil at the same time – even in a city as big as London.

But what could one have to do with the other?

Escape Rating B+: This is a fun book and has become a fun series. Originally the Elemental Masters series seemed to revolve around reworkings of classic fairy tales across various points in time where magic users who were masters of their particular elements were part of the reworking of the tales. And some entries in the series were better than others.

But a few books ago the author moved from reworking fairy tales to dealing with one legendary character in particular. In A Study in Sable she introduced her own versions of Holmes, Watson and the rest of the Baker Street crew. Sherlock was still very much his extremely rational self, but the Watson of this series is very different. His water mastery makes him much closer to Holmes’ equal, albeit in a different sphere. He also has allies and resources of his own separate from Holmes.

This redirection of the series really zings! It can also be read without reading the Elemental Masters series as a whole by starting with either A Study in Sable or an earlier volume which serves as a kind of prequel, The Wizard of London, which introduces the characters of Nan and Sarah as well as Lord Alderscroft, the titular “Wizard”.

The criminal conspiracies in this story do reduce to Occam’s Razor. Two separate gangs doing this much damage would be too much. It is a surprise however to see just how the one set of evil relates to the other – and they are both definitely very evil.

The truth about the headless corpses and their evil purpose will chill readers right down to the bone. As will the mastermind’s methods of obtaining them, which spotlights just how disposable working class women, especially young women, were at this point in history, as well as just how pervasive racial prejudices were at the time.

What makes this subseries so much fun is, of course, the cast of characters. The varying perspectives of this Watson with more agency, his equally powerful wife Mary, and the two young women who are determined to make an independent go of their world lets us see this version of Victorian London from it’s highest pinnacles to very nearly its lowest depths through the eyes of very sympathetic characters.

The villain in this case is deliciously and despicably evil, and we are able to see just enough of his horrible machinations to learn what he’s up to and to wholeheartedly concur with him receiving his just desserts.

This version of Victorian London is fascinating and magical, in both senses of the word. I hope we have plenty of return visits to look forward to!

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WhitehouseMycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The new novel by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starring brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

Now a force to be reckoned with in the War Office, the young Mycroft Holmes is growing his network of contacts and influence, although not always in a manner that pleases his closest friend, Cyrus Douglas. A Trinidadian of African descent, Douglas has opened a home for orphaned children, while still running his successful import business.

When a ship carrying a cargo in which Douglas was heavily invested runs aground on the Dorset coast, Mycroft convinces his brother Sherlock to offer his services at the orphanage while Douglas travels to see what can be salvaged. Sherlock finds himself surprisingly at home among the street urchins, but is alarmed to discover that two boys show signs of drug addiction. Meanwhile Douglas also finds evidence of opium use on two dead sailors, and it becomes clear to Mycroft that the vile trade is on the ascent once again.

Travelling to China on the trail of the drug business, Mycroft and Douglas discover that there are many in high places willing to make a profit from the misery of others. Their opponents are powerful, and the cost of stemming the deadly tide of opium is likely to be high...

My Review:

Combine “portrait of the detective as a young truant” with “portrait of the spider at the heart of the British government as a young bureaucrat” and you get a couple of the parts of Mycroft and Sherlock.

This is also a story where we begin to see our heroes becoming the people that we know they will become. Not merely Sherlock the intelligent, intolerant, sociopathic detective, but also Mycroft as the rather bloated and nearly agoraphobic spider at the heart of the government’s web – a web that he himself will spin in the decades to come.

And part of what makes this work, both the first book in the series, Mycroft Holmes, and this latest, is that the authors tell a story about these much-beloved brothers that is new to our eyes while still fitting into the canon that we already know – the world that they will eventually inhabit but that for them is yet to come.

But this story is a followup to the authors’ Mycroft Holmes – a book that was published in 2015 but that I didn’t get around to until earlier this year. I enjoyed it so much that I actually bought Mycroft and Sherlock when it came out – there were no ARCs and I really wanted to see what happened next.

Not that we don’t know what happens eventually to the Holmes Brothers, but I wanted to see the next steps that this story would take to get from here to there.

This is both a sequel and not. The events of the first book do have consequences in this one, but not the case itself. And it’s fascinating and if you enjoy Holmes’ pastiches I definitely recommend it.

Those consequences are rather surprising – because they revolve around the health of the protagonists and not further involvement in that particular case. At the end of the first story Douglas survived a near-fatal gunshot wound, resulting in a couple of slugs sitting uncomfortably near his heart. For the man of action that he has been, his need to either restrict his actions or attempt to protect his vulnerability is not easy.

Mycroft is just not feeling well – surprisingly unwell for a healthy young man in his mid-20s. That last messy case included an untreated bout of malaria, resulting in a weakened heart. So both Mycroft and his friend Douglas suffer from similar ailments, albeit from different causes.

And with different results. Mycroft (and Sherlock) both know about Douglas’ condition. But Mycroft, secret-keeper that he is, keeps his condition to himself – even when it would behoove him to reveal it. He can’t stand to admit to a weakness – particularly when he feels that his work is not yet done.

But his reticence adds to the distance in his relationship with his brother -a distance that will continue to have consequences for the rest of their lives.

There is a case here, and it’s a typical Holmesian farrago of convoluted means and hidden motives, with the addition of the right hand (in this case Mycroft) not knowing what the left hand (in this case Sherlock) is doing – and vice versa. With nearly fatal results – multiple times.

It is also a case where the story explores conditions at the time. As the saying goes, “The past is another country, they do things differently there.” The heart of this case is the drug trade – which is surprisingly legal for the most part yet still has aspects that are hidden in dark shadows.

But the soul of the case is about family, and the infinite number of ways in which trying to help can go oh so terribly wrong.

Escape Rating A-: I liked this every bit as much as the first book. Which was a lot. This was certainly another case of right book, right time. I was just in the mood for more Holmes (I have another one in the queue as well) but this was just right.

Part of what makes these two books so good is the addition of Cyrus Douglas. For the most part, the original canon dealt with the Victorian era from an upper-middle class white point of view. The addition of Douglas as a main character forces Mycroft and Sherlock to deal with the parts of the world that men of their race and class generally ignored.

At the same time, Douglas also serves as the adult in the room. In his mid-40s by this point in the story, he has a wealth of real-life experience – and the scars to go with it – that the Holmes boys lack. Douglas can be a voice of reason that makes the brothers stop and think for a minute – or at least make Mycroft stop and think for a minute – in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Both of the Holmes are a bit melodramatic at this point in their lives. We never think of them as young because they were not in the canon, but in these stories, with Mycroft in his mid-20s and Sherlock in his late teens, they are very young indeed – and it shows in their actions as well as their thought-processes.

At the same time, we are able to see the elements of what will become their known personas beginning to gel. Mycroft is beginning to retreat from the wider world, becoming more focused on his governmental duties and on the forces that only he can see. While this case brings him temporarily out of himself, we can also see that it is temporary.

Sherlock’s methods are clearly under development in this case, but his personality is nearly set. And we see both happen as he learns how to handle disguises and starts the seeds that will become the Irregulars while at the same time he is still wearing his heart on his sleeve – and learning to hide it.

If you want to find yourself up to the neck in the Victorian era and several steps behind two of the most famous detectives in history, this book is a really fun read. I hope there will be more!

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry ThomasThe Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock, #3) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

My Review:

This was the book I wanted to read, so in spite of being a couple of weeks early, I did. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Even if I found this entry in the series every bit as frustrating – as well as every bit as captivating – as the first two books, A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia.

And yes, that’s a hint. This is a series where you really need to read them in order. Holmes’ situation in this series is so singular that the reader really needs to start from the beginning for it to make the sense that is required. Particularly as the case in The Hollow of Fear is directly related to events that took place in A Conspiracy in Belgravia – even more of those events than at first appears.

By this point in the series, we are well acquainted with Charlotte Holmes and her lucrative masquerade as her invalid “brother” Sherlock. Charlotte has found a rather unique solution to the restrictions placed on genteel Victorian womanhood by arranging to have her virginity rather publicly taken by a married man, making her a scarlet woman and removing herself from her parents’ household and restrictions.

She’d rather be disowned than respected. Which does not mean that she does not still care for her family, or at least for her two sisters, Livia and Bernadine. Bernadine, the oldest sister, has been kept away from society since she was a little girl. Based on the descriptions of her behavior, it seems as if Bernadine has a severe form of autism – but of course that was not recognized at the time.

To their unloving and extremely profligate parents, Bernadine is an embarrassment and an expense they would rather dispose of.

Charlotte, as we have learned to know her better, quite possibly has Asperger’s Syndrome. She certainly has some of the hallmarks of the syndrome, notably the high intelligence, the hyper focus on one particular topic, and a considerable amount of difficulty with social skills.

Livia is the closest to what their society classes as “normal”, but she also has no desire to rescue her parents’ terrible financial situation by marrying someone who will stifle her creativity. It is Livia in this Sherlock Holmes pastiche who is the author of the stories.

The case in The Hollow of Fear is a complex one – and it is a case that both strikes close to home and reaches towards the halls of power. In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Holmes discovered that her friend Lord Ingram’s estranged wife was not merely a mercenary bitch, which was already well known, but was also an agent of Moriarty (of course there’s a Moriarty) and therefore a traitor to the Crown for which Lord Ingram is an agent.

At the end of that story, Lady Ingram supposedly flees to the Continent, but at the beginning of this story her corpse is found on Lord Ingram’s estate, stuffed rather unceremoniously into the icehouse.

Of course Lord Ingram is the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Not just because police always look at the spouse first, but because Lord Ingram has so very many motives to want his wife permanently out of the picture.

Including the exceedingly well known fact that Lord Ingram is in love with Charlotte Holmes.

But it will be up to Sherlock Holmes, with the assistance of a host of both real and imaginary relatives, to unravel the trap that Lord Ingram has so obviously been placed in. Without revealing either her own identity or the secret workings that caused this mess in the first place.

Escape Rating B+: I always have mixed feelings about the books in this series. The author has done an excellent job of conveying just how restricted women’s activities were at this particular period, and how much difficulty Charlotte has in working her way around those restrictions.

The advent of “Sherrinford” Holmes in this story was a fascinating way of working around the conundrum this time – as well as the creation of quite the character in his own right.

It takes a bit of time for the “case” to truly begin in this one, and those opening chapters don’t move at nearly a fast enough pace. At the same time, they are absolutely crucial for setting up the scenario and getting all the clues in place for the main event – which is a doozy.

This is a case where, in the end, nothing is quite as it seemed. The switch between the events as they appeared from the outside and the reveal at the end felt a bit abrupt, but once the story switches from what everyone “sees” to what is happening under the surface it all falls into place quite satisfactorily.

But while it is all going on, the author does a good job of ramping up the tension. The situation, particularly for Lord Ingram, seems bleak. We expect that “Sherlock” is going to save the day, but not even Charlotte herself is willing to promise that all will be well. Like the characters in the story, particularly Livia Holmes, we find ourselves hoping without any certainty that all will be well.

That there is so much that cannot be revealed because it will unmask governmental secrets just adds to the tension. We know Ingram is innocent, but we don’t know whether it will be possible to prove his innocence when there is so much that absolutely cannot be told.

The reveal of the villain at the end is a surprise to the reader and many of the characters as well. And it does a beautiful job of setting up the possibilities for the next story in the series. There are at least two more books coming, and as much as the descriptions of just how much Charlotte has to work around and how appalling difficult many women’s situations are, I can’t wait!

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 22, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

My Review:

Because of the house closing tomorrow, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on all the books I’m supposed to be reading. Instead, I’m looking for books to sweep me away, mostly to places and people I’ve met before. Or at least am well acquainted with through the pages of my favorite books.

And that led me to this one. As I’ve said many times before, I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, particularly when they are done well and/or introduce me to new facets of characters that I think I know and certainly love.

Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sidney Paget in the Strand Magazine

This book about Mycroft Holmes in his “salad days” does a bit of both. For those of us who are fond of the Holmes Brothers, this story about Mycroft’s early days as a government official, when he was young, in love, and his weight was definitely proportional to his height, is a treat. And not just for its glimpses at an even younger Sherlock Holmes, still at school and a very indifferent student, trying to hone his gift for memory and observation into something that will keep him away from boredom, and see him intellectually if not always gainfully employed.

Even though this is a story about Mycroft rather than Sherlock Holmes, someone still needs to serve as “Watson’, chronicler, sounding-board, foil and occasionally backup gunman. In this story that role falls to Cyrus Douglas, a black man in his early 40s who is still a powerful street fighter as well as the secret owner of a successful tobacco shop in London.

The story begins when Douglas receives word from his home in Trinidad that someone or something is killing young children in a manner that strongly suggests supernatural origin. The children are dead, the adults are both grief-stricken and scared, and Douglas is tempted to sail home and look into the matter.

So is Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft Holmes’ fiancee, also a native of Trinidad – although from much different social and economic circles than Douglas.

Young Mycroft, deeply in love (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be writing) decides to follow Georgiana to Trinidad, using his government position as cover and providing Douglas with cover for his own desire to head home.

Mycroft and Douglas, true friends masquerading as master and manservant, run into trouble from the moment they arrive on shipboard, and stay in various states of trouble from embarkation to disembarkation.

Only to arrive in Trinidad, battered, bruised and uncertain of what happened to Georgiana or just which of the two of them exactly what forces are after with such bone-breaking intent.

This journey that leads Mycroft Holmes into the heart of darkness, breaks the young man that he was. And takes him on his first steps into becoming the spider at the heart of the British government’s wide, wide web.

Escape Rating A-: As a portrait of the government functionary as a very young man, Mycroft Holmes is a treat. When the story begins in 1870, Mycroft is all of 23. That puts his birth year in 1847 – which would make Sherlock a young 16. We think of these characters based on the Sidney Paget drawings from The Strand Magazine, but if they must have been young once.

(I have a picture in my head of Mycroft as he’s described in this book, and he looks a lot like Simon Ward as Young Winston Churchill.)

Mycroft begins this story very young indeed, not just in years, but in naivete. (Another sentence I never expected to write.) A reviewer referred to this as being the story of Mycroft in his “salad days” and that feels right. The comment about “salad days” is from Shakespeare, as said by Cleopatra in the play Antony and Cleopatra, “my salad days, when I was green in judgment…” And so Mycroft is. So much of what sets Mycroft off on his quest is his complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of the woman he believes he loves. Even Sherlock points out his lack of clear sight when it comes to Georgiana, and he’s only 16. The more mature Douglas has doubts about the young lady from the very beginning. And they are both right.

This may be the last time that Mycroft is ever wrong about anything. He certainly learns his lesson – perhaps a bit too well.

The case that Mycroft and Douglas investigate is as much a part of its time and place as the Sherlock Holmes stories are of Victorian London. As Mycroft does what he does so well, pulling the threads of monetary exchanges, political double-dealing and government corruption, he and Douglas find themselves in the middle of a plot to enslave a new generation of black men and women in a nefarious enterprise where it seems that all the players are doing their best to pretend that they are not actually slavers.

But they are. And Mycroft and Douglas, with the help of some surprising allies, set out to stop them at all costs. And it’s terrible and harrowing and marvelous and necessary and right. This is a story that introduces a marvelous and fascinating character in Douglas, and provides new insights into the familiar character of Mycroft while telling a cracking good story.

There’s a sequel coming out this fall. In fact, I was led to this book by a promo for the upcoming title, Mycroft and Sherlock. And I can’t wait.

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #15
Pages: 306
Published by Bantam on June 12, 2018
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Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today."

A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no.

The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet he seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps?

The trail leads Russell and Holmes through Bedlam's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas...

My Review:

I have followed Mary Russell’s adventures from her very first outing in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, almost 25 years ago. And how that time has flown!

The story we have in Island of the Mad reminds me of the best of the Russell/Holmes kanon (yes, that spelling is deliberate) combining the farcical aspects of the case in Pirate King with the more serious undertones, as well as a few of the characters, from the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. And the result is glorious – as well as a bit star-studded.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Lido”, which seems to be a deck on every cruise ship as well as appearing in multiple songs and all sorts of other places, our journey also takes us to what feels like the original of the name, the Lido di Venezia in the beautiful La Serenissima – Venice.

The case before our intrepid heroine is to determine whether her best friend’s aunt disappeared of her own free will, was the victim of some foul deeds, or succumbed to the madness that has plagued her for the past dozen years or so.

Or perhaps all of the above.

When Mary’s search for Vivian Beaconsfield leads her from Bedlam to Venice, a separate case miraculously (or perhaps nefariously) appears before her husband Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft desperately wants his brother to poke his inquisitive nose into the rise of the Fascisti in Italy. While too many people in England think that a strong man like Il Duce Mussolini is just what Italy needs, Mycroft is certain that there is something sinister about the rise of the fascists in Italy, Germany and possibly even Britain.

History proved he was right, but in 1925 all that Mycroft had was his finely honed intuition. He can’t send an agent because even he can’t describe what an agent should be looking for. But if there is something to find, Mycroft is certain that Sherlock will find it. Or that it will find him, whether he wants it to or not.

While their separate missions lead them to the same city, the things that need investigation pull them in entirely different directions. While Mary hunts for evidence of Vivian’s presence among the more outre denizens of Venice’s celebrating ex-pat nightlife, Sherlock inveigles himself into the household of American composer Cole Porter, where anyone who is anyone in the city is entertained in lavish style while the rich Americans drop millions of lira into the local economy.

When their respective cases dovetail into one another, the conclusion of both trails ends in a bang, a whimper, and an explosion of sound and light. Lots and lots of bright, white, revealing light. Flashbulbs!

Escape Rating A: As much as I love this entire series, naturally some of the stories work better than others. Island of the Mad worked really, really well, because it went back to the elements that make this series so special.

The premise of this series, established all the way back in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was that after Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs at the end of his adventures, he literally stumbled over a 15-year-old girl – or rather she stumbled over him while her nose was buried in a book. After that fortuitous meeting, he took her on as an apprentice, and in the course of her apprenticeship, they eventually, after the events in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, married.

If you can swallow that premise, and admittedly some people can’t, the entire series is marvelous from beginning to the present. I don’t say beginning to end, because I sincerely hope the end never comes. If you can swallow the premise and have not read the rest of the series, well, you could start with this one. It does stand a fair bit on its own. But it would lose some of its resonance. If you are interested, but just not up to plowing through all 14 previous books in one go, read at least the first two so that you know how these two fit together into their singular relationship.

The series began in 1915, and this story takes place in 1925. Holmes and Russell have been married for several years, and are quite happily married. Also, it is a real marriage and not in any way a marriage of convenience – as many of their acquaintances occasionally assume. Their marriage is a true partnership, and much of the fun of the series is watching them work together, even if, as happens here, they are sometimes apart in their togetherness.

The stories are always told from Russell’s perspective, with her parts being in the first person, and Holmes’ separate investigations in the third person. We operate from inside her head, but with extremely rare exceptions, never inside his. Holmes is as inscrutable as ever, including at times to his wife.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between having Russell operate on her own and making sure that Holmes participates enough to keep things interesting for both them and the reader. The books do not always strike that balance well, but this particular outing does. They have separate tasks to perform and separate ways to go about them, but they check in with each other on enough of a regular basis for the reader to feel invested in both cases, and for the dovetailing at the end to work well.

One of the things that makes this series different from other Holmes pastiches and continuations is not just Russell’s voice but the way that she takes Holmes’ training and moves it into a new century with the different sensibilities of both her generation and her gender.

There are two dark themes underlying the froth in this particular outing. One is, of course, the rise of fascism in between-the-wars Europe and just how quickly and easily the fascists have taken over Italy. That is a darkness and a threat that Holmes would both recognize and fight against whether Russell was present or not. And any resonance between the situation they investigate and current xenophobic and tyrannical regimes rising today is probably intentional.

But just as the way that the fascists have come to power leads the reader to compare that situation to the present, so does the initial case that takes Russell to Venice in the first place. Her best friend’s aunt has been committed to Bedlam, the psychiatric asylum in London, for years. She has escaped. As Russell investigates, it turns out that the question isn’t why she escaped, but why she was committed in the first place. And if you don’t see the #MeToo movement peeking out from behind the historical curtain, you’re not looking.

There’s a lot of substance under the froth of the “Young Things” partying between the wars and the glitter of the ex-pat night life – if you want to look for it. But even if you don’t, it’s a fascinating story from the very first page.

I look forward, as always, to Mary Russell’s next investigation.

Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg

Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard GoldbergA Study in Treason (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #2
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
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A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch.

My Review:

A Study in Treason is the followup to last year’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I’m a sucker for Holmes’ pastiches, and I absolutely loved that first book. Not only was it the right book at the right time for me, but it seemed to hit all the right notes, with Holmes’ daughter taking her father’s place and solving crimes with Dr. Watson Sr. as well as his son, Dr. Watson Jr. In keeping with the spirit of the original stories, Watson Jr. is the chronicles of these new events.

But after having read A Study in Treason, I’m starting to wonder if this is something that can only be done well once. Part of what makes the first book so much fun is the nostalgia factor; that it echoes the originals while being just a touch new and just slightly different.

Nostalgia can only carry a person, a book, or a story so far. And I think that shows in this second book. While Watson Sr. is an older version of himself in the canon, very much as he should be, the new characters need to go in at least a few new directions.

Instead, Joanna Blalock Watson feels more like a carbon copy of her famous father. It is ironic in a case that proves that nurture is more important than nature, that Joanna seems to have each and every one of Holmes’ talents and habits, in spite of not having been raised by him. While Joanna certainly knows who her father was, I’m not certain that she actually met the man.

Yet somehow, not only his talents but his every habit seems to have passed down to her, as if by osmosis, barely changed from the original. And while the talents could indeed pass through the blood, that the habits would too seems a bit unlikely.

The story in A Study in Treason, recalls The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, while its title calls back to the first published Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. But in spite of the veritable school of red herrings thrown in the reader’s, and Lestrade’s, way, the case itself seems fairly obvious from the early stages. And obvious in a way that has been overused.

Escape Rating C+: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, especially after the promising start in the first book. Instead, the story feels a bit thin and stretched, as though the author has taken a good idea and pushed it past its limits.

In order for this series to work, the characters need to change and grow. It makes no sense for Joanna to be such an exact replica of her father, particularly having grown up outside his influence. There should be some marked differences, and those differences would make her an interesting character in her own right.

She also seems to face or have faced little of the difficulties that a woman in a man’s profession would have faced in the 1910s. Or she has completely brushed all of them aside. Even if she chooses to ignore those differences, anyone she deals with on a professional basis would not. And that constant fight should have had some influence on her character.

There’s not enough there there, and I’m sorry to have to say that. I had high hopes for this series. But for a more believable female Holmes, I’m going back to Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series.

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes Lackey

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes LackeyA Study in Sable (Elemental Masters #11) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #11
Pages: 313
Published by DAW on June 7th 2016
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Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White—along with their clever birds, the raven Neville and the parrot Grey—have been agents of Lord Alderscroft, the Elemental Fire Master known as the Wizard of London, since leaving school. Now, Lord Alderscroft assigns them another commission: to work with the famous man living at 221 Baker Street—but not the one in flat B. They are to assist the man living in flat C. Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, themselves Elemental Masters of Water and Air, take the occult cases John’s more famous friend disdains, and they will need every skill the girls and their birds can muster!

Nan and Sarah’s first task: to confront and eliminate the mysterious and deadly entity that nearly killed them as children: the infamous Haunt of Number 10 Berkeley Square. But the next task divides the girls for the first time since they were children. A German opera star begs Sarah for help, seeking a Medium’s aid against not just a single spirit, but a multitude. As Sarah becomes more deeply entwined with the Prima Donna, Nan continues to assist John and Mary Watson alone, only to discover that Sarah’s case is far more sinister than it seems. It threatens to destroy not only a lifelong friendship, but much, much more.

My Review:

I read A Study in Sable AFTER I finished A Scandal in Battersea. That’s definitely the wrong order. But A Scandal in Battersea served as a marvelous reintroduction for this reader to the Elemental Masters series. So marvelous, in fact, that when I closed that book I grabbed as much of the series as I could from various libraries and immediately started on A Study in Sable, order be damned.

I’m very glad I did.

With the exception of the villains, the cast of characters is the same between the two books. Our heroines are the psychic Nan Killian, Sarah Lyon-White the medium, their extremely intelligent and protective birds, and the famous Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, elemental masters of water and air, respectively.

And as deeply involved as ever in the life and casework of that most rational of men, Sherlock Holmes.

Just as in A Scandal in Battersea, the focus here is on the magic that functions in this slightly alternative version of our own world. But as in Scandal, a case that at first seems to rest entirely in the magical realm that Holmes refuses to believe exists, turns out to have so many potential effects on his rational universe that he finds himself involved in spite of himself.

Such is the case of A Study in Sable. A celebrated German opera singer – definitely not Irene Adler – is under siege by hordes of ghosts while she performs in London. She hires Sarah for her mediumistic talents, but unlike most of the people who hire either Sarah or Nan, makes it clear that ONLY Sarah’s presence is welcome, and that Nan is something less than the mud she scrapes off her expensive boots.

At first, Sarah is happy for the money, and feels duty bound to help the spirits “cross over”, but looks forward to the end of her task. But as the horde of ghosts seems to be nowhere near diminishing, Nan and Sarah’s bird Grey discern that Sarah seems to be falling under the sway of the opera singer, in a way that is not natural.

As Sarah’s natural enjoyment of the luxurious setting morphs into a kind of desperate, personality-altering hero-worship, Nan moved from being mildly jealous to seriously alarmed – and that is the point where the Watsons, and eventually Holmes, are drawn in.

The question is whether even their combined powers will be enough to draw Sarah out from under the spell before it is too late.

Escape Rating A-: I had every bit as much fun with this one as with A Scandal in Battersea. However, if you are coming to these fresh, start with Sable. The two stories flow together extremely well when read in the correct order.

Although there are no steampunk elements in these books, the way that this alternate Victorian and early 20th century England seems to function, along with its blend of magic and “normal” life, reminds me even more strongly of Cindy Spencer Pape’s excellent – but seemingly complete – Gaslight Chronicles.

But the story in A Study in Sable rests very much on the strength of its characters – particularly in this case the character of Nan Killian. She and Sarah are independent young women, who are partners in their independence but not romantic partners. At the same time, romance seems to be far from either of their current horizons. And I like that – that these young women are making identities for themselves and neither expecting nor even thinking that romance will solve things for them.

This book is particularly Nan’s show, as Sarah is increasingly not herself as the story progresses. We feel for Nan as she watches in horror as the friendship that has sustained both her and Sarah unravels under the influence of the supernaturally charismatic opera singer.

It is also fun to see a version of Dr. John Watson where he is definitely Holmes’ equal. Their spheres of talent and influence are different, but Watson in this series is a master in his own right, and never kowtows to the sometimes imperious and always self-absorbed Holmes.

The case in Sable is one where Holmes’ seemingly mundane missing persons’ case draws inevitably towards Watson’s case of malign psychic influence and Sarah’s never-ending ghostly horde. When the separate strands merge, the whole story makes wonderfully blinding sense.

I’m very glad I decided to delve into the world of the Elemental Masters. I’ll be back!

Review: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes Lackey

Review: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes LackeyA Scandal in Battersea (Elemental Masters, #12) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #12
Pages: 310
Published by DAW Books on October 17th 2017
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The twelfth novel in Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series reimagines Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England

Christmas is a very special time of year. It is special for Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White and their ward Suki, who are determined to celebrate it properly. It is special for their friends, Doctor John Watson, and his wife Mary, both Elemental Masters, who have found great delight in the season seeing it through young Suki’s eyes.

It is also special to others...for very different reasons.

For Christmas Eve is also hallowed to dark forces, powers older than mankind, powers that come awake on this, the Longest Night. Powers best left alone. Powers that could shake the foundations of London and beyond.

It begins slowly. Women disappearing in the dark of night, women only missed by those of their own kind. The whispers only begin when they start to reappear—because when they do, they are no longer sane. And when Nan and Sarah and the Watsons are called on to examine these victims, they discover that it was no ordinary horror of the streets that drove them mad.

But then, the shadows reach for other victims—girls of good, even exalted families, who vanish from concerts, lectures, and evening balls. And it will take the combined forces of Magic, Psychic Powers, and the worlds greatest detective to stop the darkness before it can conquer all.

My Review:

A Scandal in Battersea is the 12th book in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. I read the earliest books in the series long ago, probably when they were published in the mid-1990s. It doesn’t seem as if one needs to have read the whole series to get into this particular entry in it, although now that I’m diving back into the whole thing, it looks like A Study in Sable is more of a direct prequel to A Scandal in Battersea than any of the other books.

The original premise of the Elemental Masters series was to re-tell well-known fairy tales in a late Victorian/early-20th century alternate universe where magic works and is divided into at least four main branches representing the classic “elements” of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. But other forms of “magic” were introduced in later stories, notably telepathy and other ESPer powers, and the mediumistic power to communicate with spirits.

Over time, the series morphed into a single world, with some semi-continuing characters, including many of the protagonists in A Scandal in Bohemia – notably our main characters. John Watson (yes, that John Watson) is a Water Master, his wife Mary is an Air Master, while Nan Killian is a Psychic and Sarah Lyon-White is a medium.

It takes all of their combined powers, plus the rational mind of Sherlock Holmes, to solve this case. It all begins with a young woman having visions of a ruined London where a tentacled monster sucks people into itself, never to be seen again. While traditional medicine believes that the poor girl is mad, Dr. John Watson is all too aware that she might be sane – and psychic, warning of evil on the horizon.

And so it proves. Someone, some idiot, is calling up a power that he does not understand, in the belief that it will give him earthly power and vast wealth. And power. Lots and lots of power. All he has to do is sacrifice a few virgins to its ever-growing hunger.

Of course it all goes wrong. Bargains with demons, devils and otherworldly creatures of shadow never go well, at least not for the human bargainer. Plus, (or minus, depending on on your perspective) sometimes the monster gets out.

In order to keep this monster from getting out, every person and creature that our heroes can find on the side of the light, or even just on the side of keeping our world for us, wades into the fray.

And it might not be enough.

Escape Rating A-: For a book with Sherlock Holmes on the cover, where the title is a direct reference to one of the canonical stories, there just isn’t enough Holmes in this book. In the end, I had an absolutely marvelous time with this book and with this world, to the point where I ran out and picked up as many of the previous entries in the series as I could borrow from libraries, but there’s not enough Holmes to justify its description as, or to satisfy my yen for, yet another version of the logical, rational Holmes finding his way in a magic-working world.

But if you are looking for a version of Victorian London where magic works and where the cast of characters is both diverse and endlessly fascinating, you’ll love A Scandal in Battersea. That the main characters are a pair of independent young women and their intelligent birds just adds to the fun.

If you like this concept of a magical, or at least slightly alternate, Victorian London, the setting of A Scandal in Battersea reminded me quite favorably of Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles. And since I loved that series and it seems to have ended, it is very nice to find something that reminds me of it quite so strongly.

And if the monster in A Scandal in Battersea gives you the shivers as much as it did me, take a look at A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman (included in his collection Fragile Things, which is a pastiche where Sherlock Holmes’ London intersects with the Cthulhu Mythos, with predictably creepy results. I include this reference because the descriptions of the monster that they have to fight struck me as Cthulhu’s cousin. A reference that left me appropriately creeped out.

As much as I missed Holmes until his appearance at the ¾ mark, I had a great time with this book and could not put it down. I enjoyed this world so much that I immediately picked up an earlier book in the series, A Study in Sable, which introduces readers to Holmes, Watson and Mary Watson in what looks to be a kind of prequel to A Scandal in Battersea.

I’m charmed and enchanted all over again.

 

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe House at Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation #1) by Michelle Birkby
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Perennial on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
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When Sherlock Holmes turns away the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Baker Street, and Mary Watson resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of Baker Street, the two women begin their enquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the feared Ripper supposedly still stalks. They discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk and it rapidly becomes apparent that the lives of many other women are in danger too.As they put together the pieces of an increasingly complicated puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?It is time for Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson to emerge from the shadows and stand in the spotlight. Readers will discover they are resourceful, intelligent and fearless women, with a determination to help those in need . . .

My Review:

This is not the first re-imagining of the life of Sherlock Holmes’ imperturbable housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, to emerge in recent years, but it is the one that tears the fabric of its canon the least. (The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King posits a much, much different life for the Great Detective’s landlady!)

Instead, like Carole Nelson Douglas’ series featuring Irene Adler as the protagonist, The House at Baker Street show the world of 221b through the eyes of its female inhabitants and habitués as they take up a case that Holmes rejects. And they carry it off with aplomb, if not without more than their fair share of danger and intrigue.

Just like Holmes himself, Martha Hudson also has the assistance of her very own Watson. Mrs. Hudson is aided and abetted by Mrs. Watson – the former Mary Morstan that was. In addition to calling on the aid of many of Holmes’ own allies, including the ever-present and ever-helpful Irregulars.

And when Hudson and Watson find themselves in need of an expert housebreaker, they turn to Holmes’ very own nemesis, Irene Adler herself.

The case in The House at Baker Street feels very much like something that Holmes would reject out of hand – and one where the female Hudson and Watson would understand the circumstances so much more intimately than the male detectives.

At a time when an unsullied reputation was a woman’s most precious possession, a whisper campaign of tireless malignity filled with descriptions of unspeakable acts could bring down the highest of the elite – and could wreck a formerly happy marriage. It could even end a life.

Or two. Or ten. Or possibly a hundred.

But whisper campaigns are insidious, and women, even more so then than now, we’re not supposed to even think of the things that were being hinted at. Never accused, because an accusation requires proof. But whispered about in an undertone in a crowded ballroom, or a smoky club room. And, as always, it is impossible to prove a negative. How does one prove that one hasn’t ever done something, especially when no one will directly speak of it?

Laura Shirley is a victim of just such a campaign. Holmes rejects her incoherent plea for help, both impatient with her frightened mannerisms and certain that she must be lying about something relevant. He’s certain that there’s no smoke without at least a little fire.

Martha Hudson and Mary Watson know better. Laura Shirley’s fear is real. Whether Hudson and Watson have learned enough of the detective business to solve her case is anyone’s guess – including their own.

But in a fit of daring – or perhaps insanity – they decide to try. And discover that they have inserted themselves into a web much darker than they, or even Sherlock Holmes himself, ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This story feels like it fits almost seamlessly into the Holmes canon. It’s not just that the reader can feel the pea-souper fog and almost smell the smells – especially the unsavory ones. It’s that this story feels like something that could have happened under Holmes’ very nose – not because he didn’t notice but because he often does not seem to care what happens to other people. In the stories, and especially in some of the portrayals of Holmes on TV and in the movies, he frequently seems like a fairly selfish bastard.

And a genius, of course. But still, quite often, a bastard who cannot admit that he does, in fact, care about at least some of the people around him. Like Watson. And Mrs. Hudson, and the Irregulars. And even, in an unspecified and undefined way, Irene Adler.

But it is all too easy to seem him dismissing Laura Shirley in irascible impatience. And even today, we are all much too aware that a woman’s testimony about her abuse, because that is what was happening to Laura Shirley, is always discounted, often down to nothing. That men in general and Holmes (and her husband) in particular would write her story off to either hysterical imaginings or a guilty conscience feels like the way of the world. Not just hers, but ours.

That Martha Hudson and Mary Watson take her seriously because they both know better also feels entirely too plausible. But what makes this book is that they choose to do something about it – and in the doing uncover great danger – but also discover that they, every bit as much as Holmes and Watson, rise to the thrill of the chase and the danger of the hunt for evil.

Hudson and Watson, but particularly Mrs. Hudson, jump off the page. The story is told from Martha Hudson’s perspective, and we are with her as she reaches outside of herself and pushes out of her “comfort zone” to face this challenge. We are with her as she stumbles and fumbles and most importantly, learns how to expand herself into this new role that she has taken on. And it is the making of her.

That Hudson and Watson discover in the end that evil, is in fact hunting them makes for the perfect ending – and effectively slots the first case of Hudson and Watson into the greater arc of Holmes and Watson’s long-running battle with the greatest criminal mastermind of their generation.

If you love Sherlock Holmes’ stories, The House at Baker Street is a marvelous addition to your addiction. It certainly was to mine. There is a second book in this series, titled The Women of Baker Street, which I can’t wait to immerse myself in.