Monday, June 16, 2014


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE WILL OF THE DEAD (which I finished reading yesterday evening) by British science fiction author George Mann is a brand new Holmes novel published in 2013. It's about as close as you can get to a traditional, classic Holmes adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Except it isn't. Let me explain.

THE WILL OF THE DEAD is comprised of two separate narrative threads. In one, Holmes, Watson and Inspector Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard (a character from Mann's other steam punk sf novels) combine forces to solve the mystery of a murdered man and his missing will. It's a straightforward, good old-fashioned detective story without a trace of the supernatural or paranormal to be found. It's a definite throwback to the works of Doyle.

But the other narrative thread concerns a serious of burglaries committed by a gang of "iron men", steam driven automatons that have glowing red eyes. Here's where the bizarre, steam punk element gets added to the book. Except, it's not blended with the first narrative concerning the missing will. In fact, Holmes refuses to aid Bainbridge in his investigation of the "iron men" until after he has solved the mystery of the missing will. Then and only then, in the last few pages of the book, does Holmes solve the riddle of the iron clad marauders. And of course, it's a Scooby Doo.

It looks to me like author George Mann had notes on two separate Holmes adventures and the editors at Titan Books perhaps asked him to combine the two in order to make a book-length adventure. Except, it's not a book-length adventure. The story, WILL OF THE DEAD, clocks in at 217 pages. Not quite enough to fill the 251 pages between the two covers. Those remaining 34 pages are given to a short story, THE HAMBLETON AFFAIR,  starring Mann's steam punk protagonist Sir Maurice Newbury.

So, we have a Sherlock Holmes novel that's really two, completely unrelated stories slapped together into one narrative and a short story starring a hero other than Holmes. To make matters worse, in WILL OF THE DEAD, Mann uses the long held traditional method of having Watson relate the story (as is done in all Sherlock Holmes stories) but he injects chapters told from the viewpoints of other characters in the story, including Inspector Bainbridge. This is simply not done, despite the foreword by "Dr. Watson" that offers an excuse and an explanation for this violation of the classic narrative structure of a Holmes story.

WILL OF THE DEAD isn't a bad little mystery yarn and I've read enough Holmes stories to have figured it out before the reveal  but I would have much preferred to read either that story entirely by itself or the "ADVENTURE OF THE IRON MEN" as a separate tale. And both tales should be told completely by Dr. Watson and only Dr. Watson. Oh, and save the Maurice Newbury story for a volume of Newbury stories. When I buy a Sherlock Holmes book, I want 100% Holmes.

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