A review by David Ruffle, author of the acclaimed Lyme Regis Trilogy and other Sherlock Holmes books.
Holmes and Watson team up once more with the schoolboy, Winston Churchill in a dark tale of politics and political uprising and plotting. As with his previous outing, Mike Hogan’s own plotting is second to none. the pace is leisurely at times and then grips hard when required. The book opens with a gorgeous scene between Holmes and Watson in which Watson is trying to do the ‘household’ accounts. he fails to bring home the importance of frugality to Holmes and that becomes a recurring theme of the tale. ‘Take the underground’, cries the good Doctor. The result: a cab! The dialogue in this opening scene displays the warmth of the characters to each other and Mr Hogan’s unerring way with dialogue which is witty without ever being forced. This scene is closely followed by one involving Lord Salisbury which matches the opening scene in its splendid dialogue. The novel goes from strength to strength after that, plots and sub-plots fly by all deftly handled. Moriarty makes an entrance, still the Napoleon of crime that we know him to be, but with the saving grace of being an Englishman! This is the kind of pastiche that gives pastiches a good name. I am inclined to think it’s the one of the best pastiches of the last twenty years. [Mr Ruffle’s emphasis]
“The second in the Sherlock Holmes/Young Winston trilogy not only lives up to the excellence of the first novel in the series..it exceeds it. The dialogue is perfect and has a nice line in humour, but natural, never forced. The plot is as good as anything I have read this year, complex, but not overly so and easy enough to follow in no small part due to the author’s skill. This is a very welcome addition to the world of Holmesian literature. In fact, I have been reading Holmes pastiches for nigh on thirty years and this is certainly the best pastiche I have encountered in the past ten years at least. One of the best ever. Buy it!”
The Baker Street Society
“Mike keeps true to Doyle’s style and the characteristics of Doyle’s characters. I enjoyed the relationship between Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and young Winston Churchill. The three play off each other very well. Mike’s grasp on historical events as well as Victorian London is something to be admired.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be disappointed with this instalment in the Sherlock Holmes and Young Winston series. New comers to Holmes, or for those simply looking for a thrilling Victorian crime will greatly enjoy this book.”
Luke Benjamin Kuhns
Camberwell, for example, for Tuppence.
“On blistering days like this,” I said languidly, “I miss my punkah wallahs.”
Sherlock Holmes made no reply.
“I said that I miss the fans on the veranda of my bungalow in Afghanistan. Perhaps we could rig one on the ceiling and employ some street Arabs to operate it. What do you think?”
“My dear Watson, I cannot think,” Holmes said from the depths of the sofa where he lay enveloped in his old blue dressing gown. “It is far too hot to think. I am dozing fitfully and dreaming of Kathmandu in a swirling, blinding snowstorm.”
I mopped my brow and glanced out of the open window of our sitting room at the yellow, sun-baked facades of the houses on the opposite side of Baker Street. Some were tight-shuttered, attempting to beat the scorching summer heat and blinding sunlight with darkness and shadow. Others, like ours, were catching what faint airs and wisps of wind there were with all the windows and doors wide open in the Continental style.
“You are not asleep,” I said. “You are trying to avoid my monthly recital of your misdeeds as you successfully did three months ago —”
“By almost dying,” Holmes said in a drowsy tone, “at the Hotel Dulong in Lyon.”
“And the month after that.”
“The Reigate affair,” he sighed.
“And last month you played sea shanties on your infernal violin each time I brought up the subject of our accounts; I am still partially deaf in my starboard ear.”
Holmes gave me a suspicious look. “Where is my violin? I have not seen it this age.”
I smiled and indicated the receipts, bank records and final demand notes spread across our breakfast table. “I have hidden it until we resolve our first-quarter accounts. I have a preposterous invoice here from the Chemin de Fer du Nord in France for a train spécial from Paris to Lille.”
Holmes unfolded himself from the sofa and stood in front of our empty fireplace. He stretched, took a slim cigar from my packet on the mantel and lit it with a match.
“I was chasing Baron Maupertuis, the pan-national swindler,” he answered with a languorous shrug. “He engaged a special train; I was obliged to follow. You have hidden my violin. It is not downstairs, as you would not have left it vulnerable to Bessie’s notion of polishing everything shiny with a damp rag coated with beeswax. It cannot be in your room, you would not countenance the slightest whiff of felony theft; it is a long pattern Stradivarius and rather valuable.”
I waved his remarks away and tapped my account book. “Cab fares alone come to a monstrous sum, Holmes. The Metropolitan Line of the Underground Railway is at our door, yet you insist on hansoms. And the omnibus would take us to, well, Camberwell for example, for tuppence.”
“I do not intend to go to Camberwell for example for tuppence. I have no business pending in Camberwell for example for tuppence or any other sum. It is a dull suburb.”
“I suggest Camberwell merely as a — good grief, Holmes, what is this bill from Jamrach’s Menagerie: ‘One giraffe for three days at two guineas a day’?”
He sniffed. “I was on the trail of the Giant Rat of Sumatra; I needed to pose as a collector of rare creatures. Two guineas a day is a perfectly reasonable fee for a giraffe; the rate for a mere ostrich is four. You may own your own giraffe for a paltry forty pounds, cash down or over six months at five per cent, and Jamrach offers price reductions when the beasts are in season.”
He wagged an admonitory finger at me. “I cannot recommend the purchase. I have discovered that responsibility for even a moderately-sized giraffe entails considerable additional expense above the rental. Giraffes are not easily ridden and they do not care to walk the streets of London even on a long leash. I had to hire a Thames barge and crew at double carriage rates to convey the beast to Chelsea. The first half-dozen bargemen refused to accept the fare despite clear Thames Conservancy Board regulations on the matter. I have written strong notes to the responsible agencies.”
Holmes took a long pull of his cigar and shook his head. “In addition, giraffes do not seem to possess the common sense that I had expected of the species. I presumed it would bob, as it must do under low branches when navigating its native heath; my beast was nearly decapitated by London Bridge. You might have hidden the violin in my room, but again that goes against the delicacy with which you refrain from entering without invitation. No, it is not there.”
I tried to keep my eyes on the accounts as Holmes glared at me. He was in a tetchy mood that morning. I had informed him over breakfast that my literary agent, Doctor Conan Doyle, had concluded a deal with the publishers Ward, Lock and Co. We had accepted the sum of twenty-five pounds for the rights to ‘A Study in Scarlet’, an account of a spectacular American case that Holmes had resolved in the year before our acquaintance began.
I had prefaced the description of the case with a description of our first meeting and with a character study of Holmes. He saw the proofs many times during the winter and spring as I wrote and edited, but beyond providing me with the facts of the Mormon case and some details of the Utah Territory, he expressed little interest in the project.
However, with the news of probable publication Holmes began to voice doubts as to the advisability of putting the story before the public. He expressed disappointment with the lurid title and style, doubts about the length and structure of the narrative and concern that the publication of our address in Baker Street might result in vendetta attacks from villains he had bested. I had to remind Holmes that we lived in the City of Westminster, not Palermo or Dodge City.
I judged that Holmes’ concern was not for our safety, nor yet related to the literary merit of the story. It was clear to me that, although Holmes wanted neither to be lionised at the dinner tables of the nobility nor to have his exploits written of in the penny dreadful newspapers read by the servant classes, he was content to accept — indeed secretly revel in — the acclaim accorded him by persons of intelligence and distinction.
Holmes was averse to becoming a public figure in the sense of being known to the general public like Chevalier Blondin the tightrope walker or Chang the Chinese Giant, but he had to accept that the success of his practice depended on word of his formidable powers reaching the ears of those who required his help. He therefore tolerated the publication of my notes of his cases, but he insisted that the case summaries should comprise a handbook of detection, a master class in the science of deduction. He demanded that I eschew sensationalism and sentimentality and concentrate on the chain of cold, clear reasoning by which each case was unravelled.
Coming from someone who absorbed flattery like a desiccated sponge, that was so much stuff and nonsense. An anaemic style might sell well in German translation, I supposed, but red-blooded British readers required stronger fare. Any account of the Caspar identity case that Holmes had recently solved would be inadequate if it took no account of the victim’s beauty, vivacity and charm. The conclusion of the recent case of the missing American boy would be absurdly mundane without a description of our chase through London in the Deadwood Stage with Colonel Cody’s column of rough riders and Indian braves.
I therefore kept to my account book. I knew that it would be fatal for me to look up. Holmes would inevitably renew our discussion and in the dreadful heat we might find ourselves not in disagreement, but at loggerheads. I had yet to inform Holmes that the publishers had not thought ‘A Study in Scarlet’ suitable for their more serious literary or political journals; they were considering publication in Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887. I thought I might leave that news for a cooler, less oppressive month.
“They are building a preposterous opening bridge near the Tower,” I said. “It is as ugly as it is expensive. It will be no adornment to the city, but it will be a boon for giraffe owners — ah, yes, I have the barge entry. What is this miscellaneous seven and sixpence?”
“Fodder. I have determined that my violin is in this room. I sweep the sitting room with an unwavering analytical gaze, ha! I see the violin case leaning against my laboratory table exactly where I put it after my last recital. I therefore conclude that you have hidden the violin in plain sight by returning it to its case! Voila!”
He flung the case open: it was empty.
I looked up and cackled. “Ha, ha, Holmes. Giraffe, barge and fodder on the Giant Rat account then. The violin is downstairs in our waiting room being restrung by the man from the music shop. One of the strings popped in the heat. If you stopped talking and listened for a moment you would hear the plinks.”
Holmes flopped onto the sofa. “It is too sultry to listen to plinks. I overloaded the delicately balanced mechanism of my penetralia mentis following the trail of Baron Maupertuis from his lair in Geneva to the dull Edam lands of Holland. I unravelled every element of that colossal fraud at great cost to my cerebral ether.”
He waved a languid hand. “I am almost glad that it is such a fiery summer: it is far too hot for crime, nor yet for detection. No respectable criminal will stir in such arduous conditions. Internationally famous consulting detectives and the superior levels of the criminal fraternity need to rest their precious faculties in the summer to prepare for the season of equinoctial murder and mayhem in the autumn. Your costermonger may bash his mother with impunity as far as I am concerned — did someone shout ‘ice’?”