Good plotting marred by inelegant writing…
This book is made up of three short novellas and my initial impressions were favourable. The first episode sets out to tell the story of one of the most intriguing of Watson’s references in the original tales; that of the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant. In the second, he explains the mysterious reference to the parsley in the butter dish. The final story gives us an opportunity to meet up again with Mrs Watson’s employer in The Sign of Four, Mrs Cecil Forrester.
I found the plotting gave the authentic flavour of a Watson narration and the author doesn’t tamper too much with the Holmesian world we all know – no female assistants, for instance, thank goodness. However, there were some real problems with these stories as far as I’m concerned. The over-emphasis on Holmes’ and Watson’s smoking habits really grated after a while. Nearly every paragraph includes a reference to one or other (or both) of them lighting up a pipe, cigarette or cigar. But that paled into insignificance beside their constant cognac swilling. Cognac? I got so irritated by that that I checked and confirmed that never, not once, did they drink cognac in the original. And yet here they’re knocking the stuff back at a rate that would suggest serious addiction issues! Also Holmes and Watson rarely speak to each other without squabbling and Holmes is so excessively nasty to Watson throughout that I couldn’t help but wonder where the friendship had gone.
I can just about forgive these kinds of variations however if all else is good. What I find harder to forgive, in both the author and possibly even more in the editor, are the grammatical howlers that litter this book. Conan Doyle’s elegance in use of language is one of the most attractive things about the originals and any pastiche must at least pass the ‘writes well’ test. Phrases such as
“…somebody within the household felt that it was important enough to secrete from within the bedroom of their matriarch”
“It was only the absolute stillness of the night that rendered the subtle sound which was barely perceptible.”
are not only clunky and inelegant, they are just plain wrong.
So for the plotting and sticking within the spirit of the originals, two stars. But the poor quality of the writing means that I will not be looking out for any of the author’s other books, I’m afraid.