on 25 June 2012
The centenary of the Titanic disaster has inspired stories of wildly varying quality. "The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner" by Jonathan Barnes, which concludes the second batch of Sherlock Holmes audio plays from Big Finish, is something special. After an unrecounted failure in his career, Holmes has cut himself off from his past, but the past refuses to leave him alone. When Dr Watson arrives at his bee-farm, simmering with grief and anger at the loss of his wife on the great liner, Holmes is like a stranger to him. But with the arrival of another visitor, Watson's anger becomes almost murderous. J Bruce Ismay is the most hated man in Britain: Managing Director of the White Star Line, first-class passenger on the Titanic - and one of the comparative few to escape the sinking ship, leaving 1500 people behind. Ismay is haunted by the phantom of a drowned woman, and he seems to carry death with him. The mystery is tantalising, and it doesn't matter that the solution may not hold up scientifically. The magnitude of the disaster, and the sorrow and pain it caused, are treated with integrity and respect. Writer and actors expose raw depths in Watson's and Holmes's complex personalities, and it all rings true. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl, among the very best portrayers of the detective and the doctor, are well matched by the tortured performance of Michael Maloney as Ismay.