Sherlock Holmes does not believe in ghosts. It seems he does not believe in the beautiful Scotswoman Isla McLaren either. These are two dangerous errors.
London 1889. Holmes and Watson have barely set foot in London after their confrontation with the hound of the Baskervilles, when Isla McLaren approaches Sherlock. She begs for his help with an unsolved kidnapping and other disturbing incidents at her family’s home, and whisky distillery, Braedern Castle. But Sherlock shows nothing but disdain for the beautiful woman and declines her offer of taking on the case.
Instead, Holmes and Watson are soon on their way to the south of France on behalf of Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. Sherlock is to uncover the truth about the origin of the phylloxa epidemic sweeping the vineyards of France. Unfortunately, it brings him face to face with his rival, Jean Vidocq, in near-deadly circumstances.
More surprisingly, they also find themselves once again in the company of Isla McLaren at a family dinner. By the time the macabre dessert is served, Sherlock cannot turn down the kidnapping case. Soon he will be facing more than the ghosts in Braedern Castle – Sherlock will be facing the ghosts of his past too. And it might just be the death of him.
Sherlock Holmes is an industry. I liken Conan Doyle’s internationally recognisable detective as the Michelin-starred original steak Diane, and the stories by authors who followed in Doyle’s heady wake as the McDonald’s Big Mac. This is not intended to insult or demean the efforts and skill of the later Sherlock authors. It is simply to clarify that if the name Sherlock Holmes is in the title of a post-Doyle mystery, there are certain elements and an adhesion to a proven formula that readers may reasonably expect to find.
Unquiet Spirits meets the criteria. It is written in the past tense, from Dr Watson’s first-person point of view. Holmes is undoubtedly the superior of the dynamic duo. His keen eye, erratic temper and condescending attitude is ever-present. Sherlock gives little away, making Watson and the readers beg for titbits of information. The plot has more mini-twists than a packet of old fashioned cough sweets. It is no surprise that three seemingly unrelated mysteries are all part of the same crime. There is a small cast of corpses and the goodies have their share of close shaves. Even the writing style is a reasonable mirror of Conan Doyle’s. For this I applaud Bonnie MacBird.
However, I am not certain that this rose by any other name would smell as sweet, to misquote the Bard. If the detective was Brian from Dudley, and his sidekick was Eric, I don’t think the story would be as convincing or memorable. If we didn’t know the arrogant detective was Sherlock, we might not like him as much. And we would almost certainly want to slap Watson for being a slightly downtrodden wimp. But despite that, this story is a crowd-pleaser, and a fast, easy read, and I thoroughly enjoyed my light-hearted amble with one of my favourite childhood characters, and Unquiet Spirits is well enough written that I can almost ignore that it is an imitation.
Reviewed 23 June 2018 by
Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her
‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by
translating, writing, editing and reading.