Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore: A review

I have loved Sherlock Holmes since I was twelve years old and spent the summer reading the complete collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about the iconic detective. A sure-fire way to catch my attention for a book is to give it a Holmesian theme, so when I saw news of the publication of The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, of course I had to read it.

Moore had a doozy of an idea for this, his first novel. He would write a tale of two storylines. One would be a historical mystery involving Arthur Conan Doyle and his friend Bram Stoker solving a series of murders that occurred around the turn of the twentieth century. The second storyline would take place in the present and would involve the present-day disciples of Conan Doyle's famous detective, the Sherlockians. Moore switches back and forth from one chapter to the next in telling his two stories and he does quite a masterful job of juggling the two tales and keeping the reader's interest.

Moore actually begins his tale back in 1893 at the time that Conan Doyle "killed" Sherlock Holmes by sending him over those falls in Switzerland. Doyle found that the reaction of the reading public to his "murder" was quite extreme and unrelenting, but he was undeterred. He hated his creation and wanted him dead.

Fast forward seven years and Doyle and his "Watson," Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, become involved in the investigation of the murders of two young women that seem to be linked. In the course of their investigation, a third young woman is brutally murdered and Doyle learns that being a detective is not quite as easy as Holmes (i.e., he) made it appear.

Meantime, we meet a newly-minted Sherlockian, Harold White, in 2010. He is attending a convention of Sherlockians at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, where one of the prominent members is to talk about having found Arthur Conan Doyle's lost diary and present it to the gathering. But, before he can do that, he is found strangled in his hotel room and no diary can be located. Harold and a reporter named Sarah set out to solve the mystery of what happened. Naturally, they end up in London among the streets and byways once familiar to Arthur Conan Doyle and well-known to any reader of the Sherlock stories.

This book is full of red herrings and blind alleyways and the ultimate solutions to both of the mysteries are not really what I was expecting, but they are satisfying.

The only criticism that I have of the book is that the writing often felt a bit stilted to me. It didn't flow organically as, for example, a Sherlock Holmes mystery would. But, after all, it was Moore's first book.

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