❉ Stuart Douglas presents us with is that rarest of things: a completely original Holmes story, which remains true to the work of the original author.
It is 1898, and Sherlock Holmes has been presented with a locked room puzzle. Unfortunately, as well as the victim of a grisly murder, the room also contains Dr John H. Watson. With an ambitious new inspector of the Yard determined to make his name on the case, and seemingly insurmountable evidence stacked against his friend, Holmes must race to save Watson from the scaffold.
In the world of Holmes pastiche, it is difficult to present something original and distinct: one only has to look at the endless films and TV movies which make up their lead’s dialogue by cherry-picking from the Conan Doyle canon. And yet, what author Stuart Douglas presents us with is that rarest of things: a completely original Holmes story, which remains true to the work of the original author.
With lucid descriptions and the subtle use of slightly-outmoded turns of phrase, Douglas is able to successfully emulate Doyle’s style, with added topical references – to the social reforms of Charles Booth, for example – providing an affectation which echoes George MacDonald Fraser. As if writing a serial for the Strand magazine, each concise chapter usually ends on an appropriate cliff-hanger, with the plot able to keep the reader engaged and theorising throughout.
Douglas also shares Doyle’s gift for characterisation, presenting us with the cast one would expect from such a tale, from weasel-like gutter-journalists to blustering parliamentarians. Inspector Lestrade and Mrs Hudson also put in appearances, and Mycroft Holmes is mentioned, but Douglas thankfully does not fall victim to the usual authors’ temptation to fill their Holmes story with the canon’s most well-known faces.
Holmes himself, given the personal aspect of his case, is presented as somewhat warmer than usual, but his powers of deductive reasoning remain as sharp as ever. In reading his dialogue, one can easily hear the speech pattern of Jeremy Brett in the role.
For devotees of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, therefore, this novel can come highly recommended. Original while maintaining the spirit of the short stories which inspired it, it would be a satisfying read for any Sherlockian.
❉ ‘The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Improbable Prisoner’ by Stuart Douglas was published 3 July 2018 by Titan Books, RRP £7.99.
❉ Stephen Graham keeps the British end up on Twitter at @PlopGazette.
❉ In case you missed it, here’s our Author Q & A with ‘Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes‘ writer Stuart Douglas, originally posted 15 November 2016: wearecult.rocks/the-counterfeit-detective-author-q-a