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SHERLOCK HOMES AND THE GHOSTS OF BLY
and other New Adventures of the Great Detective
By Donald Thomas
Pegasus Books LLC, December 2010 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
I thoroughly enjoyed these three latest pastiches about Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas. Each of these stories ring true to the original tales written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thomas, however, is too good a storyteller to just slavishly imitate. A strength that Thomas brings to these stories is making vivid the people and places of Victorian and Edwardian England. This is not surprising as Thomas has written extensively about these periods. His non-fiction works include a book on the Victorian underworld and biographies on Swinburne, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Browning. His fictional works include JEKYLL, ALIAS HYDE and THE RIPPER'S APPRENTICE. He has four previous books about Holmes that were well received by the critics as being well written and being respectful to the canon. He has an ear for dialogue that fits in nicely with the first person narration by Dr. Watson of the Holmes's adventures. The three adventures in this book are about distorted perceptions of power, of duty, of trust, and of love. This volume includes two long short stories and the novella, "The Ghosts of Bly."
In "The Case of a Boy's Honour" Holmes and Dr. Watson are called on by none other than England's Admiral of the Fleet, Sir John Fisher at 221B Baker Street. Accompanied by Mycroft Holmes, Sir John wants Holmes to investigate a trivial episode of the theft of some money at St. Vincent's, a boy's academy that prepares students for entrance to the senior Royal Naval Academies of Osborne and Dartmouth. The amount from a stolen money order is ridiculously small, a ten-shilling note and a sixpence-piece. The suspected boy, Pat Riley has been identified as the boy cashing the stolen money order. Riley's schoolmaster, a Reginald Winter, thinks Riley guilty. By previous remarks and observations on the Riley's character, Winter has prejudiced the investigation against the boy. Riley refusing to discuss the missing money and his attempted suicide in front of a train can be taken as further evidence of the boy's guilt. Dr. Watson is dumbfounded at the conclusion of the case. He never imagined such juvenile evil could exist and that such evil could be aided and abetted by out-dated ideas of privilege and birth.
In the next tale, the ravings of a poor woman challenges Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to find a natural explanation for the demonic seduction of two young children by ghosts. Their governess, Victoria Temple, admits to seeing ghosts and of suffocating her young charge, Miles, to save his soul from a demon. Hereward Douglas, a friend of Miss Temple, appeals to Holmes to investigate her case. New evidence in the form of Victoria Temple's journal has given Douglas hope. But depending on how the journal entries are interpreted, Miss Temple's writings do as much to convict her as prove her guiltless. Her main defense is having seen the Ghosts of Bly. How can Holmes prove her innocence if she really believes this? There are other witnesses that have also experienced these ghostly presences. What motive is there to all this? Can a man of science and reason challenge the supernatural?
"The Case of the Matinee Idol" is a variant of a locked room mystery. A much hated but successful stage actor, Sir Henry Caradoc Price, is supposedly killed on stage during the last act of Hamlet by drinking a goblet of poisoned wine in front of a theater full of witnesses. Carnaby Jenks seeks help from Sherlock Holmes. Jenks is the prime suspect in motive and opportunity for the murder of Sir Caradoc. Inspector Stanley Hopkins and Superintendent Isaiah Bradstreet, both old acquaintances of Holmes and Watson, are on the scene but hinder more than help. The case is more involved than either Hopkins or Bradstreet can comprehend. In the end, Holmes uses his extensive experience of the stage to clear Jenks of murder but denies Hopkins and Bradstreet the identity of the murderer. Once again, as in the murder at the Abbey Grange, Sherlock Holmes serves his notion of a higher justice rather than of the justice of the police courts.
In all three stories, Donald Thomas has vividly recreated the world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. His prose is lucid and flowing. His characterizations are razor sharp. But most of all, Thomas has the quality to entertain us and to let us escape for a few hours into an age of romance and adventure. I heartily recommend this book to Sherlockians as well as to the casual mystery reader.
Donald Thomas's previous books about Sherlock Holmes:
THE SECRET CASES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE FROM THE CRYPT THE EXECUTION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE KING'S EVIL
Note: The term "canon" refers to the 56 short stories and 4 novels of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson adventures originally written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The term "Sherlockian" refers to devoted fans of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
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