Harold White has just been inducted into The Baker Street Irregulars, and is the youngest member in the exclusive club’s history. Giddy over the honor, Harold barely has a chance to enjoy the trappings of his new society when Alex Cale, world renowned Sherlock Holmes scholar (and fellow Irregular), is murdered. Cale had been lately of note for finding the long missing journal of Arthur Conan Doyle, but he never gets to reveal its secrets. When he is one of the first people at the scene of the murder, Harold decides that he will solve the crime.
Meanwhile, in a parallel story, about a hundred or so years earlier, Arthur Conan Doyle struggles to find his balance in life after killing off his nemesis, Sherlock Holmes. When a letter bomb, which the police don’t take seriously, threatens the tranquility of his home life, Doyle chooses his own Watson, Bram Stoker, and endeavors to solve the crime himself.
Graham Moore successfully attempts the combination of several elements in his debut novel, The Sherlockian, which is a twice over mystery novel, a look at some of the precepts of Sherlockian societies, and an examination of the tense relationship between one of the most famous fictional characters in the world and his equally famous creator. Two strong narratives, both with compelling mysteries, made this a difficult book to put to the side. It manages to impart a wealth of information about Holmes and Conan Doyle, and a sense of fun in its clever examination of mystery tropes and the ways that Holmes fans and mystery readers approach the solving of a crime.
Harold isn’t the typical character that pops to mind when you think of a detective. While he’s smart, he’s also awkward, a little insecure, and just plain uncomfortable in his own skin. He makes just as many questionable choices as he makes breakthroughs which served to keep me engaged in the story (while yelling at or approving of Harold), while wondering what will happen next. Conan Doyle also makes a sympathetic character whom I had mixed feelings about as the story surrounding his family situation, relationship with Bram Stoker, and the shortcomings which make him an improbable investigator were revealed. Novels with multiple narratives usually make me a little tense in the beginning because there is no guarantee of interest in all parties and stories, but here, just as I grumbled over the interruption of one narrative, I was soon engrossed in the other – so that definitely was not an issue!
I loved the suspenseful pacing of both mysteries, the historical angle and reading the author’s note at the end to separate out the fact from the fiction. As always what ends up being true is just as shocking as what’s fictional, if not more so. Moore did an excellent job researching this novel, putting together some great “whodunnits” and creating characters I felt something for – I was concerned about Harold and Arthur and the way that the outcome of their cases would affect their lives. Very nicely done old fellow!
Jen and I enjoyed a chat with Graham Moore on our What’s Old is New podcast on Sherlock Holmes. You can also read Graham’s blog.