Sunday, 16 December 2012

Book 86 of 2012: The Veiled Detective (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)

This was one of two Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes books that I got Mr Click for Christmas/his birthday last year. It was actually one of the first ones that we found when we discovered the series of books – they’ve mostly been published previously, but they’ve all been collected together under the Further Adventures title (with a really funky cover design), they all feature Sherlock Holmes but are written by modern authors.

The Veiled Detective begins with a Doctor John Walker, in Afghanistan, being disciplined for being drunk on duty. He is sent home in disgrace, during this journey he meets with one of Moriarty’s crew, who has a little job for him. A quick change of name and Doctor John Watson is ready to take on his first job, spying on one Sherlock Holmes, to prevent him from getting too close to Moriarty.

This book took me a little while to get into. It’s fairly obvious from the very beginning that John Walker is Watson, I actually read the opening chapter in an earlier book (where it was included as a sneak preview at the end of the book) and I figured it out back then. It’s kind of written like it’s a secret, but the blurb on the back gives it away so I don’t think it’s really a spoiler mentioning it here.

The plot kind of dips in and out of several of the original Conan Doyle stories, which I enjoyed. I like the books in this series that have done that. It’s clever the way that it linked into the well-known stories and sort of showed them from a different perspective. This book is told partly in third-person (following the main characters/criminals) and partly through extracts from Walker/Watson’s journal. I liked how in his extracts Watson mentions how he’s going to have to edit the events for publication, it’s a neat little handwave to get away with changing things around.

At some points it kind of annoyed me though. Holmes and Watson are kind of sacred literary characters, you shouldn’t mess around with them too much. I’ve got this mental picture of how they behave and the sorts of things that they do based on the original stories, so it was difficult to make that fit with the characters I saw in this book. As much as the book linked to what I’ve read previously, I didn’t like how it changed the character of Watson and also some of the things that Holmes did (which Watson also tidied up for publication). I think of them as ‘heroic’ (not really in the Greek sense, more of a general everyday sort of hero) and they weren’t particularly heroic in this book.

It was also a little confusing at times how the book jumped from Watson’s point of view to the third-person and back again. There was usually a heading announcing when the text was coming from Watson’s journal, but occasionally I overlooked it, or one chapter ended with Watson’s journal but the next one began from a different POV. It was just a little jarring and made it a little trickier to read quickly. There were a few little typos/printing errors as well which I just found annoying.

On the whole it was a good little read, Mr Click certainly seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps I just struggled with it a little more because I’ve read quite a bit of Holmes-related material over the last year or so and while I was reading this we were also watching one of the TV adaptations. I’ve developed quite a fixed image in my mind of how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson should behave and they didn’t quite meet my expectations in this book.

“It would be a miracle if it were true.”
Holmes grimaced. “Miracles are the work of God. I function at a more practical level.”

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