Monday, July 11, 2016

The Game's Two Different Eras

Graham Moore’s novel The Sherlockian (2011) is an excellent “what if?” historical mystery. As a society of Holmes scholars called The Baker Street Irregulars gathers at their annual meeting, one of their members is found dead. The victim, Alex Cale, had found a previously missing portion of Arthur Conan Doyle’s diary, and was about to present his findings to the group; but the diary is now missing, and Alex has been murdered. Newly inducted member Harold White investigates Alex’s death, and finds out there’s more to the story than just a missing diary.

Author Moore alternates this present day story with a tale set in Victorian London; Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, has killed off his famous detective in a tale entitled “The Final Problem,” and a firestorm of public controversy is the result.  Readers blame Doyle for depriving them of new stories starring their hero. When Doyle receives a letter bomb, Scotland Yard does little to solve the crime. The author starts his own investigation, aided by his friend, Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula). As they follow the trail of clues, Doyle finds himself trying to solve the murders of several young women involved in the cause of women’s suffrage.

Moore guides the parallel stories to a satisfying conclusion, and provides his own answers to some questions that have intrigued literary scholars over the years. Why did Doyle resurrect his famous creation after killing him off a few years earlier? What was contained in the missing portion of the author’s diary, and did it have any bearing on Doyle’s decision? This neat, well-plotted tale is a lot of fun for mystery buffs. The author does a great job balancing the two stories, and throws in a lot of Holmes trivia & period detail for fans. It's a fast-moving, well-written mystery tale.

The Sherlockian is an entertaining journey; the reader becomes as invested in Harold’s modern day quest as we do in Doyle’s investigation in the past. And Moore makes some neat observations on just how much fans treasure their favorite characters, and their unwavering devotion to (and belief in) them. It’s part historical thriller, part modern day literary thriller, and an enjoyable read. With the resurgence of interest in the Holmes canon due to the BBC's successful Sherlock series, now's a good time to check out some other adventures related to the deerstalker wearing detective. By the way, Moore also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for the 2014 film The Imitation Game, which starred Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. His new novel, The Last Days of Night, will be published later this summer.

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