Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I really enjoy Lovegrove’s writing – see my review of The Age of Odin here – so I was intrigued when I came across this offering on the shelves. I also happen to be a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, though it was a while ago when I read them. I love the way his bluff, good hearted doctor is the mouthpiece for the complicated, haunted genius of Holmes. So – does Lovegrove’s addition to the Holmes’ canon pay due respect to the original, while adding fresh exciting stories?
It is 1913 and Dr Watson is visiting Sherlock Holmes at his retirement cottage near Eastbourne when tragedy strikes: the body of a young man, Patrick Mallinson, is found under the cliffs of Beachy Head. The dead man’s father, a wealthy businessman, engages Holmes to prove that his son committed suicide, the result of a failed love affair with an older woman. However, Holmes quickly discovers that certain aspects of the case simply don’t add up – not helped by the hostile attitude of the local constabulary. But when someone attempts to murder Dr Watson, the stakes are raised to a shocking and unexpected climax…
I’ve fiddled around a bit with the blurb, but that sums up more or less the gist of it. Lovegrove’s rendition of his main protagonist, Dr Watson, is pretty much pitch perfect. There is more than a nod to the language and phrasing of the time while keeping it suitably streamlined for modern tastes, which takes a degree of skill to pull off. I also liked Watson’s occasional gusts of annoyance at Holmes’ erratic behaviour, and his fond reminiscences of some of their earlier adventures.
Though both men are now in their twilight years, this is a full-blooded adventure involving desperate clifftop chases in thick fog, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder – several times. So does Lovegrove pull this off? What we don’t want is the Frost scenario where poor old David Jason, overweight and clearly unfit, once more is seen to be running down young men more than half his age and in their physical prime. Fortunately Lovegrove is far too canny to fall into such an obvious hole. In fact, Dr Watson spends a great deal of time grumbling about how he really isn’t up to all this excitement – and is made quite ill by his adventuring. I also liked the notion that Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Tuppen, feeds him quantities of a homemade concoction that sounds suspiciously like slippery elm, amongst other things, which has him on his feet again in next to no time.
Some of their exploits strain plausibility – but then, so did some of the original stories. What I love about this tale is that it starts quite slowly, steadily accelerates and doesn’t let up until the end. Which I didn’t see coming. I’d worked out who had done it, but not exactly why or all the ramifications. As ever, Lovecraft’s clever, nuanced plots has extra layers that resonate and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this story, despite having now read a couple of other books in the meantime.
I shall be looking out other books published by Titan Books in this series – George Mann and Guy Adams are other contributors, also strong, skilful writers whose work I admire and enjoy. And treat upon treat – I’ve also discovered that James Lovegrove has written another Sherlock Holmes book – The Stuff of Nightmares. How can I resist?