Sherlock Holmes and the Copycat Murders
It has been too long since his last assignment, and Sherlock Holmes is beginning to come unglued. He stalks around his rooms at 221B Baker Street, too tense to work, and he is about to drive Dr. Watson up the wall when they are rescued by a knock at the door. It is Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard, and he has come to save Holmes—with a murder. A man has been found dead in Bayswater, slumped over a piece of homemade stationery marked with the words “Jabez Wilson”—the name of the victim in the long-solved mystery of the Red-Headed League. When Holmes enters the death room, the first thing he spies is the corpse’s flaming red hair. The old case is open again.
A series of bizarre crimes follow, each an imitation of one of Holmes’s greatest triumphs. Either Europe is in the grip of a madman—or the great detective has finally gone ’round the bend.
This book comes in two parts that separate neatly: the foreground and the background. In the foreground, a series of murders have taken place, decorated with props carefully chosen to suggest one or another of Watson’s publications. Some of them reveal knowledge of details only Holmes or Watson could have known. Worse yet, Holmes himself has been seen coming and going from each of the victims’ homes, though he claims not to remember. Either he has gone criminal, or he has gone insane.
In the background, a top-secret weapon is being developed, its designers are in mortal danger, and a land-grasping group of German agents may be responsible. But Holmes, under suspicion of treachery or insanity, may not be allowed to intervene.
The writing. The writing was beautifully Watsonian, with several charming and unexpected flashes of humor. In fact, there was more than a bit of whimsy about the entire book, with Watson and Mycroft and Lestrade occasionally exchanging knowing looks over Holmes’s often pompous self-assurance. At the same time, though, it was not too whimsical for the subject matter; there is a deep and nuanced humanity in Watson’s helpless fear as it becomes more and more apparent that his best friend is losing his mind. I was also very pleased with the respect given to Lestrade, who is far too often portrayed as crooked or as a buffoon. Day shows us a dedicated, competent police detective who, like the rest of us, is still not quite as sharp as Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but who, over the years, has yet come to view him as a friend.
The characterization is beautiful, the action quick, and the writing smooth.
Mostly smooth. There were a few turns of phrase that jarred me out of the story, either by feeling too modern or too archaic. Whether they were accurate or not, they felt off. There weren’t too many of those, though.
Also, the first half of the mystery is mind-bogglingly transparent. I knew whodunnit almost from the get-go and kept waiting for a surprise that didn’t come. It was terribly disappointing that Watson hadn’t a clue. I consider myself pretty sharp, but I don’t expect any reader to be mystified by the foreground mystery.
I’m also sick to death of surprise Moriarty. It’s over-done, and there was no compelling reason that it had to be a Moriarty brother trying to help the Germans annex Britain. < Highlight text for spoiler.
I would purchase another book by Day. This one made for a fun addition to the Canon, and none of its flaws, for me, outweighed the enjoyment.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.