This is the fourth collection of Sherlock Holmes tales by this author and it continues a series of excellent books. "The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes" and "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt (UK: Sherlock Holmes and the Running Noose)" contained tales that involved Holmes in historical mysteries of the 19th and 20th Centuries, while "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" concentrated on Holmes and characters from his past.
This present collection contains tales that exhibit Thomas' deep knowledge of British crime and its more complicated manifestations. Each of the novellas presents a complex and unexpected tale of events unique to Britain and, particularly, to the British criminal. The only exception is the final entry, which tells the story of the Zimmerman telegram, the trigger event that brought the United States into The Great War.
The Case of the Tell-tale Hands tells of a unique method of blackmail and the victim's equally unique response. It is a dark and chilling tale, to which Holmes and Watson act as audience. Holmes explains the matter to Watson, but neither is able to divert the destiny set in motion by the blackmailer.
The Case of the King's evil is another dark and confused tale. Murder has been done, but the identities of the murderer and the victim are both in question. Further, the method used to perform the murder is even more in question. Holmes, as is his way, discovers all and acts as final judge and jury. He learns more than his client expects and offers a surprising sentence to the guilty.
In The Case of the Portugese Sonnets, Holmes undertakes an investigation into the world of Nineteenth Century Literary forgery. The remarkable materials made available by the mysterious death of a well-known Literay agent/blackmailer threaten to blacken the names of a number of English lumenaries (and to line the pockests of some less than respectable hangers-on). Holmes and Watson are asked to bring some order out of the chaos his death has inaugurated and the results are a triumph of scientific detective work.
The Case of Peter the Painter is a classic example of Winston Churchill's stint as Home Secretary. Holmes discovers evidence of Anarchist activities in Houndsditch and Churchill calls out the Scots Guards. Sherlock and Mycroft, working together, manage to stave off mass murder and to avoid rioting and revolution. The activities of Londoners during this set of circumstances echo those of The Blitz thirty years later, `Business as usual,' in the midst of explosions and gunfire. Even the mysterious magician Chung Ling Soo has a part to play in this fascinating narrative.
In The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram, the author uses Holmes to explain the events that led to the exposure of the telegram transmitted by the German Foreign Office through the US diplomatic pouch as a courtesy and then sent by commercial telegraph service to the German Counsel in Mexico City. The problem was that the note instructed the Cousel to propose that Mexico attack the United States and make Mexican Port facilities available to German submarines conducting unrestricted attacks on nuetral shipping. The release of this telegram, as decoded by the British, brought the US into the Great War.
Donald Thomas has studied and written about the world of British Crime to the point where his understanding of the subject is encyclopedic. His characters and situations are drawn from life and he uses Holmes as no other writer could to track down and foil the very real sorts of criminals he depicts.
Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones; June, 2009