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By Barry S. Brown

Sunstone Press, 2010 ($22.95)
ISBN-10: 0865347654
ISBN-13: 978-0-86534-765-6

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

The names Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Mrs. Hudson are familiar to even casual readers of mystery novels as well as TV and movie fans. Even those who have never read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, myself included, know a great deal about the famous consulting detective and his colleague. But what do we know of Mrs. Hudson, their elderly, sweet natured housekeeper? Not much, I'm inclined to think. Or not enough...

For instance, do many of us who are not Holmesian enthusiasts or scholars know anything about the kindly Mrs. Hudson? I think not. The author has given Mrs. Hudson a background, or life, before Sherlock's name came to prominence. She was married, and is now widowed, to Constable Tobias Hudson. Together they spent evenings discussing the police cases reported in the daily newspaper.

In 1890 Victorian England, a woman's "place" was in the home. Mrs. Hudson found that propect boring as she did the job of housekeeping. So she created the first of its kind consulting detective agency and sought a "front man" to appear to run the agency. That front man was none other than Sherlock Holmes. Dr. John Watson, Holmes's friend, became his colleague and assistant, under the direct supervision and direction of Mrs. Hudson. Yes, that's right, in Mr. Brown's version, Mrs. Hudson is the brains and driving force behind the detective agency. And why not? She's intelligent, observant, and has a working knowledge of police investigative procedures.

The death of Sir Stanley Parkerton commands the trio's attention. Sir Stanley died after a family dinner, yet he ate the same food and drink as did his guests. A second suspicious death leads to the conclusion that Sir Stanley's death was not of "natural" causes, especially when the terms of his will are considered. Can Holmes, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson unravel the clues before another death occurs, or worse?

The author has given the Holmes adventures a twist, with Mrs. Hudson becoming the driving force behind the investigations and the somewhat pompous Holmes merely an actor with an assigned part to play, albeit an important part. I have to admit, except for one small misgiving on my part, THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT PARKER MANOR reads like a Sherlock Holmes story that any fan would appreciate.

That one quibble I had is a minor one. I have not read the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as I said. My awareness of Mrs. Hudson is through watching the Granada production of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett, as Holmes. I can imagine Brett's Holmes would fit nicely in this current telling of tales but, as would Edward Hardwicke's Dr. Watson. But I have difficulty imagining Rosalie Williams as a plump Mrs. Hudson with a Cockney accent. Just as people favor one actress over another in the Agatha Christie's Miss Marple role, I like my Mrs. Hudson as done by the actress Rosalie Williams. I'm not adverse to hearing a Cockney accent but reading one in dialogue...Well, a little goes a long way as the saying goes. In truth, the written Cockney accent ascribed to Mrs. Hudson in THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT PARKER MANOR put me off. I abandoned the book three times before finishing it. I am glad I persevered because I did enjoy the characters and the story once I got past the accent. I am sure readers will find this an engaging tale. I look forward to more cases guided by Mrs. Hudson's able hands.

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