Review of Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Seven (a novella collection)

Eliminate the impossible…

Sherlock Holmes lives on in this extraordinary collection of brand-new novellas. Marvel as the master detective scours London’s sewers to expose the killer of a mudlark; attends a deadly séance that may prove a man’s guilt; visits a dark carnival with an unusual menu; solves the murder of an Egyptologist’s butler; uncovers the shocking secret of a tobacco dealer; sets sail for America to investigate the death of a cult leader and settles an old score for his famous associate Inspector Lestrade!

SEVEN SHERLOCK HOLMES ADVENTURES FROM: Stuart Douglas, James Lovegrove, Derrick Belanger, Andrew Lane, David Stuart Davies, Amy Thomas and Lyndsay Faye

Firstly I would like to thank Titan Books for sending me a copy of this book for review. It’s fair to say that the recent TV incarnation of Sherlock Holmes has piqued my interest, so when the opportunity for a written pastiche was offered I jumped at the chance. Seven novella length stories all with very different takes fill the pages. Death of a Mudlark by Stuart Douglass is the opener and the strongest of the novella’s in my view. It felt the most comfortable in it’s setting and the least far fetched, I liked how it didn’t get tumbled up in complexities and felt like a genuine mystery rather than playing up to what we now see of Sherlock Holmes. There are still plenty of flourishes but it was a great down to earth story to ease the reader in to the tales that come next!

The novella’s are all readable in a single sitting, which was really nice as they are the sort of thing you wouldn’t want to stop in the middle, such is the pace and flow. It was a great mix of murder and missing person mystery, moving from the somewhat mystical to the macabre. Holmes’ deductions will have the most seasoned of readers scratching their heads, these are certainly stories in which I could never see the culprit coming and the freedom to take the characters in the most unusual of directions was as intriguing as the mysteries themselves. There is a fair bit of humour and Amy Thomas really shone out casting Holmes as the king of the burn, with phrases such as “resentment suggests a level of care that I don’t remotely possess” in her The Adventure of the Koreshan Unity; it’s certainly one I’m going to keep back for an appropriate cutting moment!

I enjoyed how Amy Thomas took Holmes and Watson outside of London for her escapade, after five of the stories in the setting it gave a much needed change of scene and dynamic. I enjoyed how it again freed up the characters to be not what is expected of them as their reputation preceded them to a smaller degree. The dig at the ludicrous religious cults that pop up felt fairly topical, especially when looking at the role of women in equal society at that time. It’s a shame, because what I did find frustrating was that the 2 books written by women were relegated to the last two stories and whilst Our Common Correspondent by Lyndsay Faye was a great choice to end, it irked me a little especially as both were adding a much needed feminist voice, it really stood out to me that they were really trying to bring diversity in their works. The change of pace from Dr Watson’s point of view to Detective Lestrade’s wrapped up the book nicely in Our Common Correspondent, and again showed editorial thought.

Although set in the time of the original texts, it was refreshing to have modern themes present, the topic of domestic violence was dealt with over a couple of stories, and whilst I accept this behaviour has sadly been part of our society for some time, it’s always encouraging to have the issue brought forward, animal cruelty and poverty are also striking themes and really are testament to the diversity that novella collections can bring.

This is going to be a must for Holmes fans and if, like me, you’re wanting a more accessible book to keep you with the characters you have come to love through other mediums, it’s a great introduction.



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