Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Book Review: The Detective and the Woman, A Novel of Sherlock Holmes
I seldom have time to read a book more than once, but this was such a satisfying mystery, I had to read it twice—the first time for the story, the second time for the sheer pleasure of the writing. The detective of the title is Sherlock Holmes. The woman is Irene Adler, who outsmarted him in A Scandal in Bohemia (lingering in Sherlock’s mind ever after, according to Dr. Watson, as “the woman”.)
Story setup: Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, sends him to Florida after coming across an enigmatic message signed Barnett to someone in Florida named Sanchez. The message refers to Miss A, newly widowed and sailing for Florida. The tone of the message suggests her life may be in danger. The Holmes brothers have figured out “Miss A” is Irene Adler.
When the book opens, Irene has arrived in Florida and is on tour, re-starting her singing career after her husband’s heart attack freed her from an abusive marriage. Sherlock attends a performance and visits her backstage. He shows her the cryptic note, convincing her to team up with him so they can track down Barnett and Sanchez and foil their plan. Disguised as Bernard James, a British investor, and his American wife, Lavinia, they take a train to Fort Myers. (Sherlock has learned Alberto Sanchez from Central America has a profitable citrus grove outside of the town.)
These are not the only false identities they will assume. And, as the plot thickens, it turns out quite a few characters are not who they seem. Meanwhile, Thomas has done her research and creates a convincing Fort Myers of the late 1890’s, from hotels and rooming houses, to migrant workers in citrus groves to mansions of the few wealthy residents. (Thomas Edison and his wife are their host more than once, and a reader is treated to a description of what it was like to view in his lab a Kinetoscope, an early device to show moving pictures.)
The story unfolds through alternating viewpoints that work very well—first person for Irene Adler, a stage performer who sings with emotion and passion; distant third person for Sherlock Holmes, always emotionally somewhat removed, while his intellect tries to unravel the plot against her. The plot has lots of turns and twists to keep a reader immersed—and surprised—with a believable resolution.
The relationship between Irene and Sherlock, suspicious on both sides at the beginning, develops into one of mutual admiration and respect. They find they work well together, which is good news for the reader: More adventures are to come: The Detective and the Woman, A Novel of Sherlock Holmes, is the first of a series.
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