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Customer Review

on 22 November 2011
The marketing spiel for this book claims that it is 'the first new Sherlock Holmes novel to be published with the endorsement of the Conan Doyle estate'. I'd have thought that that honour would have gone to the collection published by Adrian Conan Doyle in the 1950s, but that's by the by. The novel has garnered a truly impressive list of five star reviews, but though I enjoyed it, I feel unable to wholeheartedly second their appreciation.

For one thing, much has been made of the authenticity, the fidelity of this book to the original canon. I should say that it deviates quite drastically in two distinct ways, one consciously, and the other less so. The first thing that grates is the twenty-first century sensibility; this is both a novel with a social conscience and a very contemporary subject matter. The grisly minutiae of the modern crime novel sits uneasily in a Holmes story, as do his new-found progressive sensibilities. Each generation remakes Holmes anew, and I have no problem with that -- in fact I enjoy it. But I do think that if you make great play of inheriting the mantle of Conan Doyle, you must play by his rules, and not your own.

My second point is less overt: I disagree with most critics about the sensitivity with which this Holmes has been drawn. One of the great pleasures for me in the original stories was the capriciousness of Holmes' character. It's one of the most delicious ironies in literature that the supposed 'thinking machine' is anything but: he's a petulant, vainglorious monomaniac, with little time for anyone or anything save himself.

This is the side to Holmes that I found sorely missing in this book. The showy deductions were there, the scenery was all in place, but where was the arrogance? Where was the selfishness that Jeremy Brett drew out so well in the late TV series? The Holmes in this story seems a quiet, efficient and remarkably well balanced man, entirely unsuited for his chosen profession. When he does offer us asides, they are inevitably so clumsy and obvious that they would have been better left out altogether.

Anybody reading this review will by now have the distinct impression that I detest this book. Far from it. It is big on atmosphere and rattles along at a good pace. It is what you might call a good 'fireside book', and I think I should probably have been less hard on it were it just one of the many apocryphal Holmes stories. But as I said before, the 'official' imprimatur, and the many laurels it has gathered make it subject to a far more rigorous examination.
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