❉ Sherlock Holmes meets Oscar Wilde in this brand-new mystery inspired by The Importance of Being Earnest.
“The Spider’s Web is full to bursting with characters from a host of Wilde’s work… and there’s more narrative meat for Watson in this book, which is great news for fellow Watsonians out there, and a rare glimpse of Holmes losing his temper!”
When presented with Philip Purser-Hallard’s The Spider’s Web, a book that contains two of my favourite things, Sherlock Holmes and Oscar Wilde, bound between the pages of a twisty AU novel, I am compelled to read it, and read it I did. Even for the most seasoned of writers, it must be a difficult task, taking on two styles of writing at the same time, Doyle and Wilde. But I’ll give Purser-Hallard credit for his writing chops, he’s got the balance just right, and there’s a cheeky tone to this book which blends together the wit of Oscar and the deductionist mind of Arthur.
The main thrust of the story starts with Lord Goring interrupting Holmes and Watson, dining on Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Simpsons on the Strand as they celebrate taking down Lord Arthur Savile for murder. Goring needs them to attend a ball in Mayfair where a corpse has been found in the garden, clutching a spider brooch – “the evening was pleasant up to a point, and that point was the discovery of a body.” Unfortunately, the piece of jewellery belongs to Goring’s wife, and he fears that police suspicion will fall upon her as the most likely to have pushed him off the balcony. Even Holmes admits that London’s finest men in uniform are likely to suspect Lady Goring of shoving the man to his demise, even though she claims he is not known to her.
The ball is being held by Ernest Moncrieff and his wife Gwendolen, a most unhelpful and flippant pair that may be familiar to those who have read Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In fact, the ball is full to bursting with characters from the plays An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and secondary characters from a host of Wilde’s work. All of these guests find themselves under suspicion of murder, and all of them seem to be being blackmailed. Throughout the investigation Holmes and Watson (there’s more narrative meat for Watson in this book, which is great news for fellow Watsonians out there) will uncover family secrets, meet obnoxious party guests and allow the reader a rare glimpse of Holmes losing his temper!
There are some lovely nuggets for Holmes fans in there; at one point Lady Bracknell tells Holmes that her husband has read about him in the newspaper, “He tells me that you and this Dr. James, or John, Watson, arrested Lord Arthur Savile yesterday on a charge of murder.” This may well be a mischievous reference to the fact that in the Conan Doyle story, The Man with the Twisted Lip, Watson’s wife, Mary, calls him James instead of John. This is something that we Sherlockians have attributed to Watson’s middle initial H standing for Hamish, the Gaelic for James, and not Conan Doyle’s sudden onset of character amnesia.
It’s certainly a well-written and interesting book, even though it does have a tendency to stretch the idea over too many pages, which might tire the reader out of their goodwill. What I can guarantee is that the last line of the book will make you groan out loud.
If you’re a fan of Holmes and the characters of Wilde, and you don’t take either canon too seriously, then give this title to Santa and hope you’ve been good this year.
❉ Nicko Vaughan is one half of Nicko & Joe’s Bad Film Club. Visit http://www.badfilmclub.com