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By David Stuart Davis

Titan Books, October 2009 ($9.95) Trade Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781848564930

Reviewed by Larry Jung
(June 2011)

Titan Books of London is now making available the better pastiches of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that have been written over the years. The overall theme of these Holmes adventures is the fantastic. Several like Manley Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman's THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS are outright science fiction stories. Another book features Count Dracula from the horror genre. Other titles have the "what if" theme. What if Theodore Roosevelt and Sherlock Holmes meet and worked on a mystery together? H. Paul Jeffers answers this "what if" in his THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE STALWART COMPANIONS. The subject of spiritualism and life after death, a favorite topic of Victorian England and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ably handled by David Stuart Davis in his pastiche THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE SCROLL OF THE DEAD.

The story opens with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson attending a sťance as a favor. Mycroft Holmes has asked his famous brother Sherlock to expose the medium, clairvoyant, and spirit guide Uriah Hawkshaw as a fraud. This Holmes does with ease, but the real significance that night was his meeting Sabastian Melmoth. Melmoth's obsession is to solve the mystery of death itself. He believes that life is only the beginning, the starting point. "I do not believe that we scrape and scrabble our way along the weary road of life merely to fade into oblivion upon reaching the end. There is more. There must be more." Watson pronounces Melmoth as mad. Holmes replies, "If only it were as simple as that, Watson."

Sabastian Melmoth is quickly forgotten. The curious burglary and brutal murder at the British Museum now consumes the full attention of Holmes and Watson. The burglary was curious in that only an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll was taken. This suggests to Holmes not a simple thief, but a serious and determined collector. The thieves left behind too obvious clues. The manner and method the night watchman was murdered and the planting of clues to throw off the police leads Holmes to conclude the criminal he is after has the daring and ingenuity of Professor Moriarty as well as a certain cold-bloodedness. This criminal is some one with great intelligence and to be feared.

It seems the stolen scroll purports to give coded directions to the location of another scroll that reveals the secret to life after death. Holmes and Watson are now on a frantic hunt to retrieve the scroll. The criminal, Holmes deduces, is none other than Sebastian Melmoth. The case becomes complicated with the arrival of a Miss Catriona Andrews who is the daughter of the famed archaeologist Sir Alistair Andrews. Sir Alistair has gone missing, and she believes the stolen scroll is the reason.

This is one of the better Holmes adventures by David Stuart Davis. Holmes and Watson are in fine form: Holmes seemingly always a step ahead, Watson the sturdy and reliable comrade. What could have been a silly and confusing plot was saved by Davis's mastery of the Holmes world. The characters ring true to the Victorian world of Holmes and Watson. For modern readers brought up expecting things like car chases in movies, Davis includes a climatic chase with the villain. And for fans of the original Holmes stories, Davis includes a trick that Holmes plays on Watson in the epilogue. The book stands on its own without prior knowledge of the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

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