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on 1 June 2011
A REVIEW OF `SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE HENZAU AFFAIR' by DAVID STUART DAVIES
`Sherlock Holmes & The Henzau Affair' is an intriguing novel to both read and review. Written by vintage detective buff, David Stuart Davies (who has produced fascinating and insightful introductions to a range of such books, including the great works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (even revealing more careful attention to detail than the creator of Holmes himself in places!)), here we have a new tale which combines the worlds of Baker Street's finest and Anthony Hope's swash-buckling Zenda novels. The premise is both fascinating and a trifle cheeky, as I shall go on to explain. Does it succeed? Well, as a mystery action-adventure tale in its own right, yes. However, in attempting to blend the atmosphere of two great literary staples, not quite.
Let's deal with the latter verdict first. In recent years, Sherlock Holmes the character has been `fair game' in terms of contemporary authors writing their own accounts (mainly through Watson's eyes) of his previously-unpublished cases. David Stuart Davies has proven to be most prolific in this field. He is clearly a true Sherlock devotee, and thoroughly enjoys spending time with the great consulting detective. However, in penning `Sherlock Holmes & The Henzau Affair', purists could argue that he takes one too many liberties in bending of the tone of the originals. Indeed, his Holmes is more the action hero of the latest Guy Ritchie films, being involved in some pretty rough stuff. Now I know that Conan Doyle provided Holmes with a strong track-record in the fisty-cuffs field, but the way that Davies gives him just as much enjoyment of the thrills-and-spills of the case as he gets from the actually deductive reasoning lacks authenticity.
The same limitations apply to the Zenda elements of the story. Being 70% a Sherlock Homes novel and only 30% an Anthony Hope adventure yarn, the splendid tone and atmosphere of `The Prisoner of Zenda' never quite shines through. Added to that, Davies takes the extraordinary liberty of completing ignoring Hope's own sequel to his most famous novel (the excellent but dark, brooding `Rupert of Henzau') and instead uses familiar characters and scenarios entirely for his own purposes, creating a virtual parallel universe of events. Think `Sliding Doors' (the subway scene) and you're getting warm.
This might all seem like petty griping and nit-picking. It is not intended to be, as in its own right `Sherlock Holmes & The Henzau Affair' is a cracking read. It's limitations stem from its reliance upon established characters who seem a trifle out of place. Now, as I moved through the opening chapters and I found an increasingly athletic Holmes involved in a blood-stained fight atop of the landing of a sinister London house, and a near wise-cracking Watson reminding all and sundry of his often-empty belly, I pondered how much better `Sherlock Holmes & The Henzau Affair' might have worked if Davies had chosen to substitute his heroes for Sexton Blake and Tinker. Indeed, one chapter ends with a red hot poker only millimetres away from a trussed-up Holmes's face, with a villain sneering threats. Those familiar with Sexton Blake know that this is textbook stuff for the OTHER Baker Street detective. Likewise, one absurd plot development involving some serious quantities of nose putty would have been far more palatable with a less-revered detective in the lead role.
Thus, the main message to be sent out regarding `Sherlock Holmes & The Henzau Affair' is not to take it too seriously. Those expecting a profound novel that blends the worlds of Conan Doyle and Hope into a mouth-watering cocktail with be left dissatisfied. However, as a cheeky and slightly-ironic tribute to both, delivered with energy and pace, it works splendidly. Given that that is probably exactly what its author intended, who's complaining?
Barty's Score: 7.5/10