Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. King

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And stop them.

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. WisemanSherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 214
Published by M.K. Wiseman on November 3, 2020
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I am afraid that I, Sherlock Holmes, must act as my own chronicler in this singular case, that of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. For the way in which the affair was dropped upon my doorstep left me with little choice as to the contrary. Not twelve months prior, the siren’s call of quiet domesticity and married life had robbed me of Watson’s assistance as both partner and recorder of my cases. Thus, when detective inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard required a lead—any lead—I found myself forced to pursue Jack the Ripper alone and without the aid of my faithful friend. And all for the most damnedable of reasons:Early on in my investigations, Dr. John H. Watson, formerly of 221b Baker Street, emerged as my prime suspect.

My Review:

Jack the Ripper – whatever his real identity might have been – was most likely not the world’s first serial killer. But he lives in the popular imagination because his bloody spree happened at the dawn of the popular mass media as we know it today.

Between rising literacy, the increasing popularity of newspapers – including the gutter press – and the advent of the telegraph which provided the ability for words, for news to travel around the globe instantaneously, the Ripper murders in Whitechapel became the eye of a perfect storm.

Sensational news, an idea whose time had come but has STILL definitely not gone – and probably never will, combined with a series of absolutely gruesome deaths, an unsolved – still unsolved – mystery, and the ability for everyone who wanted to, pretty much everywhere, to read all about it nearly instantly turned Jack’s crimes into the kind of can’t print enough compulsive reading that has never ended.

Into that series of baffling mysteries at the very dawn of scientific detection, insert one Sherlock Holmes, who was at the forefront of that scientific detection and who, if he had been real and not fictional, would have been in his heyday as a consulting detective and would indubitably been dragged into the case – whether by Scotland Yard or by his compulsion to solve the unsolvable.

In this story, that perfect storm of mass media compulsion turns into its own kind of perfect storm for Holmes himself. Because Watson, his friend and faithful biographer, fits all too easily into Holmes’ profile of the killer. Something that Holmes the thinking machine can’t make himself ignore, no matter how much he wishes it were not possibly so.

Because his best friend seems to have a guilty conscience, or at least a guilty secret. Watson, nearly a year after his marriage to Mary Morstan, moving out of 221b Baker Street and setting up his own household and his own medical practice, is lying to both his wife and Holmes about his whereabouts on the nights when Jack has been out and about on his grisly business.

If Watson is not the killer, Holmes’ suspicion of him will break their friendship. If he is, it will break the heart that Holmes tries to pretend he does not have. Whichever turns out to be the real case, Holmes is certain that nothing will ever be the same.

He has no idea just how right he is. And just how wrong.

Escape Rating B: The initial premise for this story is obvious when one thinks about it. If Holmes had been a real person, he would have been active in 1888 when the Ripper killings took place. In the Holmes’ chronology, the Ripper killings would have taken place around the time of the stories The Sign of the Four and The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor. Stories that Watson faithfully chronicled.

If Holmes were real, of course Scotland Yard would have contacted him, expecting him to bring his singular genius to the solving of this terrible series of murders and mutilations, so it seems logical to place Holmes in the context of the investigation.

(In fact, it’s been done before, most especially in Lyndsay Faye’s utterly marvelous and highly recommended Dust and Shadow. If you liked this take on Holmes investigating the Ripper, you will LOVE that one. I digress.)

The thing that makes this particular version feel different from Faye’s version, or from many another Holmes pastiche, is that this is a rare story that is not chronicled by Holmes’ faithful Boswell, Dr. John Watson, for reasons that become obvious in the story.

But Holmes’ chronicle of his own investigation feels just the tiniest bit “off”. It’s utterly fascinating, and I had a great time reading it, but the Holmes of this version is considerably more angsty than is the norm.

On the other hand, the reason for the angst is also very much outside the norm. He suspects Watson, his best friend, of being the Ripper. That would be enough to make anyone resort to a bit of “purple prose”, even the usually unemotional Sherlock Holmes.

The case then becomes two-fold. Holmes is investigating the Ripper killings. Killings in which he feels that the perpetrator has studied his methods and is deliberately taunting him. Holmes is also investigating Watson’s guilty secret, as Watson is manifestly lying to everyone close to him, and is someone who most definitely knows Holmes’ methods.

So Holmes is working both for and against the police, the police are as competent as usual, meaning not very, and Watson is being furtive and looking extremely guilty about something. Holmes is not sure who or what he should pursue, while the police are following his trail and coming to the same conclusions, without that deep friendship that he needs to protect but feels betrayed at the same time.

But the case, as convoluted as  Holmes’ cases generally are, still manages to build itself slowly and methodically towards an inexorable conclusion – just not quite the one that anybody expects.

Readers who have delved into the many, varied and fascinating worlds presented by Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and those who are fascinated by the idea of the greatest detective attempting to solve the unsolvable Ripper murders will be on the edge of their seats until the very end.

Review: The Art of Deception by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Art of Deception by Leonard GoldbergThe Art of Deception (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #4) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #4
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 16, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Suspenseful and entertaining, with many twists and turns....This is one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books."—Historical Novel Society

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which do you think is more likely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard GoldbergThe Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #3) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #3
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this critically-acclaimed series, Sherlock Holmes' daughter faces a new unsolvable mystery with spies and a threat to the crown. Joanna and the Watsons receive an unexpected visitor to 221b Baker Street during a nocturnal storm. A rain-drenched Dr. Alexander Verner arrives with a most harrowing tale.
Verner has just returned from an unsettling trip to see a patient who he believes is being held against his will. Joanna quickly realizes that Verner's patient is a high-ranking Englishman who the Germans have taken captive to pry vital information about England’s military strategies for the Great War. The man is revealed to be Alistair Ainsworth, a cryptographer involved in the highest level of national security.
The police are frantic to find Ainsworth before the Germans can use him to decode all of England’s undeciphered messages. Ainsworth must be found at all costs and Joanna and the Watsons might be the only ones who can connect the clues to find him.
USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg returns with another puzzling case for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes to unravel in this exciting mystery sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes.

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonThe Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: gaslamp, historical fiction, historical mystery, steampunk, urban fantasy
Pages: 448
Published by Tor Books on June 23, 2020
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This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.
Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

My Review:

The Angel of the Crows is the second book by Katherine Addison, after her completely, totally, utterly awesomesauce The Goblin Emperor. And this second book is nothing like the first book – except that both are terrific.

But they are terrific in completely different ways. Goblin Emperor was a political thriller of epic fantasy, featuring assassination plots, deliberately mislaid heirs and a young man’s desperate attempt to learn how to rule a kingdom he was never supposed to inherit. It’s marvelous and thrilling and fantastic.

The Angel of the Crows, very much on the other hand, is urban fantasy, with several fantastic twists. This is steampunk and gaslamp and a bit of supernatural horror set in an alternate version of Victorian London where vampires have a pact with the Queen, werewolves are both legal and respectable, and every old building has its very own Angel to watch over the flock of humans that inhabit their domiciles.

It’s also a world where Dr. J.H. Doyle of the (British) Imperial Armed Forces Medical Service was wounded in Afghanistan in a war where the opposing forces were led by the Fallen. Fallen Angels, that is. A wound that has left him with a painful limp and a desperate need to turn into a hellhound every night.

A world where the self-styled Angel of London, an Angel called Crow so often he became one, solves mysteries that the police find too difficult to master. Including a series of bloody murders in Whitechapel.

The blurb turns out to be both right and wrong. Because these are not the characters the reader thinks they are. Yet they so very much are. And it’s surprising and wonderful from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A: In spite of the author’s claim, and the many, many differences between this world and the world we know, calling The Angel of the Crows a Holmes pastiche is right on the money.

But it’s the kind of Holmes pastiche that combines Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (collected in the author’s Fragile Things among other places) with Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. By that I mean that this alternate world is invested – or infested – with a high quotient of the supernatural, but that this variation includes the detective and his friend desperate to solve the Whitechapel Murders. As they would have been if they had existed in real life, but that Conan Doyle probably couldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole as that crime spree was probably too close to recent memory to be a fit subject for fictional crime-solving. But Holmes and Watson were operating at the same time as “the Ripper” and more than enough time has passed for historical mystery writers to have a field day looking into their investigation, as is the case in Dust and Shadow.

This variation is also genderbent and genderfluid in ways that fit within the world the author has created, and yet come as a complete surprise to the reader. Dr. J.H. Doyle reveals himself to be Joanna Henrietta Doyle when Miss Mary Morstan crosses his path. That Doyle has managed to not merely continue to live as a man but actually blackmailed the I.A.F. into allowing him to keep both his medical license AND his army pension turns out to be quite the story.

And ALL the angels are female – at least as much as celestial beings have gender. But humans have assumed them to be male, so that’s how they’re addressed and perceived. Only Doyle knows the truth of just how Crow managed to keep himself from becoming either Fallen or Nameless – as he so definitely should have.

(I continue to refer to Crow and Doyle as “he” because that is how they refer to themselves and to each other. They seem to have decided on their preferred pronouns, and I comply with their preferred form of address.)

The story of this book is a combination of many of the most famous cases in the original Holmes canon, notably A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles, among MANY others, with their continued investigation into the Whitechapel Murders. While it is inordinately fun to spot the differences between the original version of those famous cases and this one, it is not required to be familiar with the Holmes stories to enjoy these versions. But if you are, the mystery that needs to be solved is often a bit anticlimactic as the resolutions aren’t generally THAT different. Even though James Moriarty turns out to be a vampire.

However, their exploration of how this version of the world works is fascinating, and their constant – and constantly frustrating – attempts to figure out who is – or who are – committing the Whitechapel Murders AND the Thames Torso Murders is definitely a new piece of both that puzzle and theirs.

The Angel of the Crows straddles, or perhaps that should be hovers over, a whole bunch of different genres. There’s historical mystery mixed with alternate history leavened with urban fantasy which includes more than a touch of the supernatural. And if any or all of that appeals to you as much as it does to me, The Angel of the Crows will sweep you away.

Review: Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King

Review: Riviera Gold by Laurie R. KingRiviera Gold (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, #16) by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #16
Pages: 336
Published by Bantam on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes turn the Riviera upside-down to crack their most captivating case yet in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”
It’s summertime on the Riviera, where the Jazz Age is busily reinventing the holiday delights of warm days on golden sand and cool nights on terraces and dance floors. Just up the coast lies a more traditional pleasure ground: Monte Carlo, where fortunes are won, lost, stolen, and hidden away. So when Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes happen across the Côte d’Azur in this summer of 1925, they find themselves pulled between the young and the old, hot sun and cool jazz, new friendships and old loyalties, childlike pleasures and very grownup sins…

My Review:

I wish that Mary Russell and Phryne Fisher could meet – they are, after all, contemporaries. If it ever happens, I’d very much like to be a fly on that wall. They feel very much like sisters under the skin, so any meeting between them would be explosive. Possibly literally. I would say that I wanted to witness a meeting between Russell and Lord Peter Wimsey, as this is also his era and the world that Russell inhabits, particularly in this story, is also his. But that meeting already occurred, somewhat surreptitiously in multiple senses of the word, in A Letter of Mary.

Not that Mary doesn’t become casually involved with several luminaries of the “Lost Generation” in this story, notably Pablo Picasso, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Gerald and Sara Murphy. And that’s after becoming acquainted with Cole Porter during his Venice sojourn in the previous book in this series, Island of the Mad.

Mary gets around, both as the wife of Sherlock Holmes and as herself. And the case in Riviera Gold is one where those two roles come into a bit of a conflict.

As Mary discovered in The Murder of Mary Russell, her now-former housekeeper, the grandmother-of-her-heart Clara Hudson, was not exactly the shy, quiet, retiring and unassuming ladylady/housekeeper that Mary had assumed her to be. Rather, that was a role that Clarissa Hudson camouflaged herself as, in order to stay a few steps ahead of the law, as well as the less-than-savory people who had been hunting her for most of her life. And kept her under the thumb of Sherlock Holmes, who has never completely trusted her and has always been certain that she would return to her actually quite wicked – and thieving – ways the minute his back was turned.

But Mary misses Clarissa Hudson, no matter what name she lives under, so when the opportunity arises for her to take a leisurely trip from Venice to Monte Carlo, where Clarissa Hudson might possibly be residing, Mary can’t resist. Only to discover that Mrs.Hudson’s nefarious past seems to have caught up with her, not just in the person of the “Jersey Lily”, but in the matter of the dead man discovered lying at her feet.

Escape Rating A: I have been following the adventures of Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes from the very beginning of this series, back in 1994 with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The premise was initially a bit hard to swallow – retired Sherlock Holmes takes on 15-year-old apprentice and eventually marries her – but the story and the series went down surprisingly smoothly and I’ve never regretted listening to that first story.

However, after 25 years of eagerly awaiting every story, it’s impossible for me to say that any books in the series stand completely alone, and equally difficult for me to tell a newbie where to begin. They’re awesome. Just dive in.

Mary Russell is one of a number of young female sleuths, whether amateur or professional, who came of age during or just after World War I. It’s a stellar list that includes not just Phryne Fisher, but also Maisie Dobbs, Bess Crawford, Elena Standish and Jane Wunderly. But Mary is special, not just because her story began before any of the others, but because of the inclusion of her husband and partner Sherlock Holmes and all of the canon that he drags in with him. It feels like their story has just a bit more depth, and his reputation – or his brother Mycroft’s – gives them entree into places that the others can’t quite manage on their own.

Like many stories in the series, this is one where the focus is primarily on Mary, while Holmes’ activities are in the background. She comes to find Clarissa Hudson, because the woman was such a huge part of her life and is now off on her own adventures. Mary wants to make sure Clarissa is alright – no matter how clear it is that the older woman is more than capable of managing on her own. Sherlock, on the other hand, wants to make sure that Clarissa is still on the straight-and-narrow.

Neither of them are prepared to discover that the woman is up to her neck in murder and smuggling. But their motives are different. Mary wants to save her. Sherlock wants to discover a truth that he has long feared. Their conflict is poignant, as Mary’s quest puts her in danger for a friend that Holmes isn’t sure is worth the sacrifice. That the danger is covered in molten bronze among stolen artifacts – along with international arms dealers and aristocratic Russian emigres – just adds to the fun and ratchets up the risk at every turn.

A big part of this particular story’s charm is the charm of Monte Carlo itself, not as the glittering confection we know it today, but rather as a slightly down-at-the-heel former hotspot looking for a comeback. It’s a place that was and will be, but isn’t right at that very moment. And it’s lovely and captivating and decadent in ways that are unexpected.

As has been this whole series so far. At the end of this story, there are hints that Holmes and Russell are off to Romania to look into a spot of vampire trouble. I can’t wait!

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes LackeyThe Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters, #14) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on December 3, 2019
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The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. Not more than four hours later, a poor cottager, also from Dartmoor, arrives seeking their help. His wife, in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." The man begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

My Review:

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of listening to The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl followed by Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and looking for stories that were at least Holmes-adjacent, as both Mesmerizing Girl and Spellbound Child turned out to be.

In other words, unlike Mycroft and Sherlock, which is definitely Holmesian all the way even if it is still focused more on the older brother than the younger, both the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and the Elemental Masters are series that I got into for Holmes but stayed in for everybody else.

Which is a good thing, because Spellbound Child, like last month’s Mesmerizing Girl, is all about the everybody else and only tangentially about Holmes. At least in Spellbound Child Sherlock isn’t in need of rescue along with some of that everybody else.

This story is part of the author’s Elemental Masters series. In this series, the world is an alternate version of our own history, it’s just a version in which magic works but is mostly hidden and strictly controlled by its practitioners – especially those who are masters of their particular elements.

The series began with The Fire Rose back in 1995 – a story that I read at the time but have no recollection of beyond the concept. I kept up with the first few books in the series, but then dropped it for a long time, until A Scandal in Battersea caught my attention two years ago, not for its fantasy but for its screamingly obvious Sherlockian elements. And have continued with the series ever since, even stepping back one book to A Study in Sable, where the entire current cast of characters was introduced.

The above should give heart to any readers who have not read the whole series. I do think starting with A Study in Sable would be beneficial to becoming acquainted with the current cast and situation. And all Holmes pastiche series seem to start with a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, as this one does.

However, Holmes is not an elemental master – at least not unless someone declares logic to be a form of elemental magic. He is, rather, a skeptic. In spite of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, being an elemental master himself, as is Watson’s wife Mary. It is an interesting take on their long-term friendship and collaboration, as Holmes has his sphere in which he is an acknowledged expert, but Watson also has his. And there are times when logic must defer to magic, no matter how much Holmes may scoff. He does not believe, but he has seen. And there have been multiple occasions where magic is the only answer left after he has eliminated the impossible.

This story takes place during Holmes’ hiatus after Reichenbach Falls, so his presence is very much on the QT, as that saying goes. He’s part of the story but neither the integral or central part, and that’s as it should be.

Because this is a case that is intimately steeped in magic. And in a peculiar way, it hearkens back to the original premise of this series, that of retelling fairy tales in a new and magical world.

The child who is missing, and spellbound, turns out to be a surprisingly rational and logical version of Gretel. Making her also missing, also spellbound, but ot nearly as mature or rational or logical little brother Hansel. (This is a series where the females often get top billing and solve the case – and so it proves here.)

It is up to non-magical but highly practical Gretel, really Helen Byerly, to figure out just how the extremely wicked witch was ensorcelling ALL the children, and escape to find help. Help in the form of Dr. John Watson, his wife Mary, Spirit Master Sarah Lyon-White and psychic Nan Killian, along with their foster daughter Suki and their highly intelligent birds Grey and Neville, sent to the “wilds” of Dartmoor by the Wizard of London to determine why so many children have gone missing in recent years – and why so little is being done about it.

While this case doesn’t wind up at Baskerville Hall – as I fully admit I was more than half expecting – it has every bit as as many twists, turns and surprises as Holmes’ and Watson’s more famous visit to the moor.

Escape Rating B+: If you look carefully at the background image in the book cover, you’ll recognize the silhouette of the famous detective, complete with pipe and just the suggestion of a deerstalker cap. It does lead one to believe that there will be more of Holmes than actually occurs in this case. On the other hand, there’s plenty of Watson, or rather, Watsons in this one, as the Wizard of London has tasked the Watsons with a case that he finds more important than the locals seem to.

After all, it’s obvious to him fairly early on that someone is kidnapping children with magical talent. While all that the locals notice is that the missing children are “not their kind” meaning either poor or members of the Travelers, and are therefore beneath society’s notice.

Everyone involved, the Watsons, Nan and Sarah, as well as Holmes (and the reader) are fairly incensed by that attitude and determined to do what they can to get to the bottom of it.

I found the case to be an intriguing one, as the perspective switches from the imprisoned children to the search for them and back again. In spite of the magic involved, the search is actually fairly straightforward, even if some of the means and methods are otherworldly. What tugs at the heart in this story is the plight of those children, trapped by chains of both metal and fear to serve as magical “batteries” for a hedge wizard who would be a bully with or without magic.

The character who really shines in this story is the non-magical but eminently practical and oh-so-brave Helen Byerly. She’s trapped with the others, chained by magic she doesn’t understand, and yet she still finds a way to improve conditions for everyone she takes under her care – and reasons her way to an escape that has a chance of freeing them all. The story may focus on the Watsons and the other masters and magic users, but Helen is the real hero of the tale.

And I always love seeing a smart girl participate in her own rescue!

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 24, 2019
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.

It is 1873, and as the economies of Europe threaten to crumble, Mycroft Holmes finds himself in service to the Crown once again. A distant relative of Queen Victoria has been slain by the Fire Four Eleven killer, a serial murderer who leaves no mark upon his victims, only a mysterious calling card. Meanwhile, Sherlock has already taken it upon himself to solve the case, as his interest in the criminal mind grows into an obsession.

Mycroft begrudgingly allows Sherlock to investigate, as Ai Lin—the woman he is still in love with—needs his aid. Her fiancé has been kidnapped, and the only man who might know his fate is a ruthless arms dealer with a reputation for killing those who cross him. Mycroft persuades his friend Cyrus Douglas to help find the young man, but Douglas himself is put in harm’s way.

As Sherlock travels the country on the hunt for the Fire Four Eleven murderer, both he and Mycroft will discover that the greed of others is at the root of the evil they are trying to unearth…

My Review:

In this third book in the Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series – after the marvelous Mycroft Holmes and Mycroft and Sherlock – we have the portrait of the bureaucrat as a young and still surprisingly slender and exceedingly insufferable young man alongside the portrait of the detective as an even more insufferable young man. We also see their sibling rivalry at full flower – and it’s not a pretty sight.

Absolutely fascinating, but not pretty at all. Mycroft is enough years older than Sherlock that he expects to be respected and obeyed by his younger brother while Sherlock is both intelligent enough to know his own mind and already detached enough from his own emotions and any thought of social consequences to respect little and obey no one unless it serves his still developing ends.

And in their relationship in this story as well as the previous we see the seeds of what is known of that relationship in the canonical Holmes stories – two men, tied by blood but not affinity, of extreme intelligence but with few emotions, acknowledging their relationship and sometimes using it while having virtually no sympathy for each other.

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. At the point in their lives when this story takes place, Mycroft is in his mid-20s and Sherlock is nearing 20 – and attempting to escape the confines of academia at Oxford.

As was true in Mycroft and Sherlock, there are two cases in this story. As it is Mycroft’s series rather than Sherlock’s, Mycroft’s case is both more important and takes up more of the story, while Sherlock’s, although important, doesn’t have quite the same consequences.

As fits the lives they are growing into, Mycroft’s case has international ramifications, while Sherlock’s is entirely local to England and fits more into his canon of detective stories. Sherlock is after a diabolically clever serial killer, a case that it not out of his later line but is currently stretching both Mycroft’s patience and Sherlock’s growing abilities.

Mycroft, on the other hand, is after an international arms dealer who is trying to start a war between China and Japan. The stakes are much higher for Mycroft, and not just because his beloved Britain will inevitably get dragged into any conflict on one side or the other if only to protect their power in India and the subcontinent.

But the part of the plot that twists Mycroft into knots is the danger to the woman he loves but cannot have. Her fiance is either a catspaw or conspirator in the plot. Mycroft thinks he’s caught on the horns or a dilemma between love and duty – only to find that the place he’s truly caught is between conflicting hells.

Escape Rating A-: Unlike the previous two books in the series, this is one that I listened to all the way through. I believe that the narrator, Damian Lynch, is intended to represent the older, calmer, and more dispassionate voice of Cyrus Douglas in his narration, and he does an excellent job representing Douglas as narrator and chronicler as well as voicing the considerably younger and more excitable Holmes’ Brothers.

Not that Douglas doesn’t have his own important part to play in this case – among his other duties he acts as Mycroft’s conscience. A conscience that Mycroft definitely needs but listens to less and less. Which is part of him becoming the man we know from his first appearance in the canon, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter – at least in personality if not in physical aspect.

Sherlock’s case, while being as convoluted as any in the Conan Doyle stories, is a relatively straightforward case of investigation. The fascination in observing Sherlock in this story is in watching as he is in the process of developing the methods we are familiar with. He is young, he is still learning, and he is almost certainly making it up as he goes along. He’s already traveled a good way towards becoming the persona we’re familiar with, but he’s still in the process of creating the methodology that made him famous. He also still makes a lot more mistakes.

But the heart of this story, in more ways than one, is the case that Mycroft is pursuing. We see him on his way to becoming the spider at the heart of Britain’s web of intelligence and operation. His entree into this case is through the young Chinese woman Ai Lin, a woman that he loves but knows that he cannot marry – and vice versa. They would be cast out of both of their cultures in ways that neither is willing to risk.

So he is resolved to do his best for her, to find her fiance who has become embroiled in the arms trade and is being offered as a sacrifice so that his employer can continue to deal with both sides of the current Sino-Japanese conflict. Mycroft begins the case somewhat blinded by his affections, and gulled into believing in his own intellectual superiority – only to discover that he’s been mistaken about the later while deciding that he needs to ignore the former – if he can.

His conclusions in the end put him squarely in the midst of this week’s theme, whether or not the ends justify the means, and who gets to decide the answer to that question. Mycroft makes a decision that is arguably the best for the country that he loves and serves, knowing that the cost of that decision will be borne by others who had no part in making it. He believes he is doing the right thing, but there is no one to whom he is accountable.

And the cost is excruciatingly high, and will be paid in ways that Mycroft only becomes aware of as the story closes. Yet we know that he would not change his decisions.

In the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, this is the central core of Mary’s estrangement from Mycroft. That he believes he sees all, knows all, and makes the best decisions for all, but there are no checks and balances on his decisions and he never has to answer for his actions to anyone. Mycroft has maneuvered himself into a hidden position of absolute power, and everyone knows the saying about about absolute power and the inevitability of it corrupting absolutely.

At the end of Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage, Mycroft is left to deal with the painful consequences of his actions – consequences that I expect to ripple through future books in this series. Books that I eagerly await.