Saturday, February 06, 2016
This year, publishing company 18thwall Productions is going back to the beginning, so to speak, with a monthly series of e-novellas starring the Great Detective, replicating in a way the original appearances of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's' shorter Holmes pieces in magazines like The Strand.
The first of these, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll, kicks the series off to an admirable start. The author, Heidi Hewitt, has captured Doyle's Watson-voice to a remarkable extent, and the classic elements - Baker Street, Lestrade, Holmes' eventual retirement to beekeeping- and references to other cases abound. An overabundance of these often works to the detriment of a pastiche work, but here it doesn't quite get that bad. I did question Lestrade's presence once Holmes and Watson leave London, but I suppose he also tagged along to Baskerville Hall, so perhaps his jurisdiction is flexible like that.
As the title of both the story and this post allude to, however, there's one element of this story that is distinctly un-Doyle-like - the clockwork robots that make up the client's serving staff. It takes a deft hand to add science-fiction elements like this to a historical setting without turning it into a parallel timeline, but as the story ends with the technology lost - in a fairly spectacular scene I think was the best-written in the piece - history can proceed unimpeded. The technology itself is only described in broad strokes, which makes sense as Watson is probably not up on the cutting edge of scientific theory, but a bit more explanation, even techno-babble, would have helped to sell the existence of these robots in 19th-century England, when the outpace even today's efforts.
Of course, with a mystery story the most important element is the solution, and here again is evidence of the author's painstaking craftsmanship - the denouement leaves no hanging threads (even to a seemingly unrelated robbery that I assumed was there to provide a cameo for one of the famous literary gentlemen thieves contemporary with Holmes) and, though surprising, in retrospect could have been figured out ahead of time, particularly for those with a Holmes-like memory for the details of the Sherlockian Canon. Even for readers without that, however, it was a very enjoyable story and I for one am greatly anticipating the second installment in this series.
(Disclaimer: the publisher provided me with a review copy of this story - my opinions, however, are all my own.)