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
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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.

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + GiveawayThe Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock, #4) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.   But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.   Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

My Review:

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I’ve been reading the Lady Sherlock series as each book comes out, beginning with A Study in Scarlet Women three years ago.

The twist in the Lady Sherlock series is, on the one hand, the change that is made obvious by the series title. In this series, Sherlock Holmes is the fictitious, invalid brother used by Charlotte Holmes to mask the fact that she is the deductive genius who finds missing objects and solves crimes – as well as, in the case of this story – committing them.

But Holmes isn’t the only gender-swapped character in the series. There is no Dr. Watson. Instead, there is the former actress Mrs. Watson. Her husband was the military doctor who served in the Afghan War, as the Dr. Watson of the original canon did.

Mrs. Watson is not, however, the chronicler of “Sherlock” Holmes’ adventures. That duty has been left to Olivia Holmes. Charlotte’s younger sister.

One of the things that makes this series stand out from many other variations on the Holmes theme is not just that many of the roles have been gender-swapped, but that the series does not ignore the many ways that life as a middle or upper-class woman in Victorian England was restricted.

Charlotte’s ruse about her bedridden brother is part and parcel of those restrictions, as is her choice to become a “scarlet woman” in the first book so as to get herself disowned and out from under her parents’ disapproving thumb. A thumb that has all the force of law to hem her life into a tiny straight-jacket of propriety and misery.

Mrs. Watson, as a former actress, was already a scarlet woman when this series began. The case that Holmes and Watson take up in this entry in the series has its roots in her past. Once upon a time, when she was younger and perhaps a bit more foolish, Mrs. Watson fell in love with another woman. A woman who is now the Dowager Maharani of Ajmer. A woman who comes to London to engage Sherlock Holmes’ services in order to thwart her blackmailer – only to discover that there is no Sherlock, only her former lover and a woman who may be a towering genius of deduction but has no experience in breaking and entering.

Because that’s what the job seems to require. Breaking into an invitation-only house party and art auction, with the sole purpose of stealing a valuable painting and the explosive secrets that are concealed within its frame.

But nothing about this case is as it seems. As Charlotte and her team of friends and confidants investigate the mess that the Maharani has gotten herself into, the more that Charlotte realizes that very little about this case is what it seems.

There is much more going on than meets the eye – whether the eye is quicker than the hand or not. This case contains plenty of misdirection – and more than a few magic tricks – on every side. But at its heart there’s danger that none of them ever expected to face – at least not again.

Escape Rating B+: Like the previous entries in this series, I have mixed feelings about The Art of Theft. I’m almost feeling as if there are two books combined into one slightly uneasy combination.

The first part of this one is wrapped up in all of the restrictions faced by genteel women in Victorian England. Even though Charlotte and her sister Olivia are both in their late 20s, both definitely adults, legally they are the property of their father until they marry and become the property of their husbands.

That Charlotte was bloody-minded enough to find a way out of the trap does not mean that she is not affected by the solution she chose – as is Olivia. Their parents have forbidden the sisters to see each other, and while Charlotte is out from under their thumb, Olivia is not. She has no way of making a living for herself, and no freedom except through subterfuge.

It is ironic that Charlotte, Olivia and Mrs. Watson do read as women of their time, but their very necessity of kowtowing to the restrictions of being a woman in their time makes this reader grit her teeth and want the story to just get on with it.

Once they have the bit of the case between their teeth, in spite of all of the insanity that is wrapped around that particular endeavor, the story moves much more quickly, to the point where the reader can’t turn pages fast enough because there’s so much going on. And so much of it seems like “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s also that once the case gets going, Charlotte’s constant worry about “Maximum Tolerable Chins” gives way to her cold-blooded analytical ability to take what few facts they have and wrestle those facts into a theory that allows them to proceed – and succeed – in their endeavor.

(It seems in this series that the original Sherlock’s drug addiction has been converted to Charlotte’s addiction to rich pastries. It is notable that Sherlock never worried one-tenth as much about his seven-percent solution as Charlotte does her cream buns.)

Back to the case. There were plenty of examples of cases solved by the original Holmes where it takes Holmes’ uncanny ability to pull together disparate and obscure facts with painstaking observations to learn that the case the detective was hired for is not the game that is actually afoot.

And so it proves here. The way that Charlotte Holmes puts together the bits and pieces of what they are hired to do in order to discover what actually needs to be done is what keeps this reader glued to this series in spite of my frustrations with the maneuvering that Charlotte and company often have to do in order to get to the point.

In the end, this case is nothing like it appeared to be. Their client covered up their truths, and the blackmailer used the entire thing as a way to misdirect every single person at the auction.

That Moriarty emerges from the shadows at the end is more than enough to make me anticipate the next story in this series. There will be a solution to The Final Problem that is Moriarty. But hopefully not yet.

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a copy of The Art of Theft to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Universe of Zuya
Pages: 96
Published by Subterranean Press on March 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...

My Review:

The Nebula Awards shortlist came out this week. I was reminded to take a look at it by someone on the Library Journal Committee that picked the best SF and Fantasy for 2018 for their annual wrap-up because four of our picks are on the Nebula shortlist, as well as a couple of titles that ALMOST made it.

Looking at the list, I noticed a book that I picked up a while ago, as it was recommended in the context of being an “out of this world” Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It has been said that every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes for themselves, and The Tea Master and the Detective definitely qualifies as one of the more inventive futuristic reinventions, right up there with Sara Holmes and Janet Watson of A Study in Honor.

In The Tea Master and the Detective, we have a tale set in this author’s loosely connected Universe of Xuya series. It’s an alternate history universe where China discovered America before Christopher Columbus. That discovery altered the history of the world, as such a momentous change would. China turned outward instead of inward, and seems to have become the dominant power on Earth before humanity reached the stars.

An influence that is still felt at the time of this story, probably taking place somewhere in the alternate 22nd century – if not later. (The series is made up of short stories and novellas, and they have been scattered in publication throughout every magazine currently publishing SF and Fantasy. I wish they were all collected somewhere because I’d like to read them ALL!)

As I have not yet read the series, I came into this story with no previous knowledge – and I absolutely loved it. While the entire history of the universe isn’t explained – and it shouldn’t be – this little gem still feels complete. I just want to know more. (I always want to know more.)

The detective, in this case the mysterious Long Chau, claims to be writing a thesis on the decomposition of bodies in the deep places of space. Places that seem to be both theoretical and real, although a bit more of each of those elements than might be presupposed at first glance.

The thing about the deep places is that they are both real and unreal, and the unreality of those places affects the human mind – to its detriment. Humans usually travel those deep places safely within the bounds of a ship controlled by a “shipmind”. A ship that is self-aware.

What makes this story so interesting is that the “Watson” to Long Chau’s “Holmes” is a damaged shipmind named The Shadow’s Child who is psychologically unable to travel the deep places – so she makes her living brewing teas that help humans survive the unreality of the places she no longer feels able to go.

Long Chau goes to the fringes of the deep places to find a dead body. But what she’s really looking for is a lost soul. Her own. That she also finds the soul of the scarred shipmind forges a unlikely partnership.

One I hope to see again.

Escape Rating A: This is lovely. It combines two ideas that really shouldn’t have much to do with each other, but work together anyway – much as the two protagonists really shouldn’t have much to do with each other.

Shipminds are people. And this society has places for them and recognizes them as people. The Shadow’s Child has to deal with many of the things that anyone else does, including meddling family members and paying the rent. She will also remind readers of Anne McCaffrey’s classic stories of the brainship Helga, The Ship Who Sang.

The Shadow’s Child is the Watson to Long Chau’s Holmes. The pastiche part of this story is fairly subtle – if you’re not interested, it’s not there. If you are interested, the way that Long Chau refers to herself as a “consulting detective”, her endless deductions of what people, including shipminds, are thinking, feeling and doing as well as her constant use of drugs to stimulate her mind are there to remind readers of some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits, both the more and the less savory of them.

The case that they ultimately find themselves on is an investigation that no one wants solved – and it nearly gets them both killed. But along the way they learn to respect if not necessarily trust each other, and we get to explore a fascinating universe that has plenty of stories in it that are worth telling.

I look forward to ferreting out more of this series as soon as possible!

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’DellA Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles #1) by Claire O'Dell, Beth Bernobich
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #1
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

Other things do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Janet Watson eventually discovers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: supplied by 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: supplied by 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
Goodreads


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!