Sherlock Holmes and the Murder at Lodore Falls
Continuing my journey into the Sherlock Holmes titles kindly provided to me by MX Publishing to review, I decided to move from Sherlockian academic analysis (courtesy of Marino C. Alvarez’s excellent A Professor Reflects on Sherlock Holmes) to the Holmes-based fiction that comprised the majority of the books. They all looked thoroughly exciting to read, but my attention was taken by the unusual, yet striking, cover art for Charlotte Smith’s Sherlock Holmes and the Murder at Lodore Falls. Set against a blood-red background, an angelic figure with broad, feathery wings kneels at the bottom of the cover, one arm rested against the floor, the other across their face. It certainly caught my attention, and curiosity drew me to the back-cover blurb, which in turn highlighted that the title consisted of the titular novella, as well as a pair of short stories. The plot for the novella sounded decidedly Sherlockian in nature – murder, blackmail, robbery sending Holmes and Watson on the heels of a dangerous gang of criminals; and the plots of the two short stories appeared to take unconventional angles on the great detective and his companion, which intrigued me.
Although all three stories are described as coming from “…the well-worn tin dispatch box belonging to Dr J. H. Watson” based on the description on the back-cover, I feel it’s important to note that the novella and both short stories are not written in the first-person narrative form adopted by Conan Doyle in the Canon short stories and novels, and are instead written in a traditional third-person narrative. While it may initially seem difficult to reconcile the two notions, Smith’s decision to not be restricted solely to Waton’s point of view is actually rather refreshing, and ensures all three stories are freed up to provide greater narrative context and additional points of view that move the overarching plot along. The opening novella, the titular Sherlock Holmes and the Murder at Lodore Falls, is a fast-paced and action-packed story that plunges both men into the middle of blackmail and murder, with a gang of thugs and their mysterious leader terrorising a trio of British Army veterans in order to gain access to a chemical formula that could revolutionise an entire industrial sector. Opening with a brutal murder of a veteran at the foot of the Lodore Falls, which sees the chemical formula passed onto another ex-military colleague, Smith then brings us to the smog-choked streets of London, and Number 221b Baker Street. A blood-stained, badly-injured man stumbles into the lodgings of Holmes and Watson – as occurs in the best of the Canon stories – and aiding him then inextricably binds the two men into the machinations of the mysterious James Gang, and a desperate attempt to halt the gang before more murders take place.
It’s a well-paced story that smoothly and tensely escalates the plot, as Holmes finds that the gang are ruthless in the pursuit of goals and will not hesitate to fight, even to the extent of grievously wounding the venerable detective when he attempts to investigate the gang. More bodies pile up, and eventually Holmes and Watson find that they have no choice but to physically intervene to ensure the gang’s criminal activities are brought to an end. It all concludes in a shocking and twist-filled ending, as an old foe of Holmes appears from the dead in potentially controversial circumstances. Overall, however, it’s a thoughtful and engaging story, with a real eye for characterisation; I appreciated Smith’s insights into Holmes and Watson’s thought processes as the story progresses, with the author deftly highlighting the affection both men have for each other. I was also impressed by the decision to have the victims of the gang’s attentions be veterans of the South African campaign, with Smith using that bond between old comrades to gently explore notions of loyalty that transcend civilian society, as well as the effects of combat on mental wellbeing, a precursor of what is today recognised as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
After the novella come the two short stories to round out the small collection. The first is The Call of Angels, which is unusual for two reasons: a structure of alternating points of view between Watson and Holmes, and the appearance of a mysterious, angelic figure. With only a few hours of Christmas Eve remaining, Watson closes the door of his surgery and walks towards Baker Street, the hour so late and the snow so thick that no hansom cabs are running. Slowed by the snow and eager to get home, a rash decision to take a shortcut through Hyde Park results in a nasty fall for the good doctor. He is rescued and cared for by a strange, handsome man who claims to be called Gavri’el, who seems to know an extraordinary amount about Watson and Holmes, and imparts a cryptic message about Holmes’ future. It’s certainly an original story with an unusual angle on the two men and their relationship, and while the mystical elements may ruffle some feathers in the Sherlockian community, it is certainly a memorable tale. The second story, The Adventure of the Wooden Boat, is also set at Christmas and has a slower, more thoughtful pace than its predecessor. We get some interesting insights into Watson’s childhood and relationship with his father, which then ties into his kinship with Holmes and a decision to purchase a model sailing boat as a Christmas present. The boat is then used as a metaphor for how Holmes and Watson relate to each other, and a potential case gives Holmes a rare insight into what shaped Watson’s personality and character. Once again, it’s an original and engaging story that uses the two characters in an unusual and memorable manner, and which I actually rather enjoyed.
Sherlock Holmes and the Murder at Lodore Falls is an entertaining and often thought-provoking triptych of tales based around Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Very easy to read, smoothly-paced and written with verve and enthusiasm, it did not take me long at all to read all three stories. There’s also a very effective use of historical footnotes throughout the collection, detailing interesting trivia and facts relevant to the story, which makes the text generally more engaging to read. I think that this would be an ideal work for someone who has read the original Conan Doyle Canon stories and wishes to become familiar with the wider world of Sherlockian fiction, without becoming overwhelmed by more detailed or complex titles. It might, perhaps, even be a good entry point to Sherlock Holmes as a whole for a Young Adult reader, and I shall certainly be introducing it to my sons when they are slightly older.
[Sherlock Holmes and the Murder at Lodore Falls by Charlotte Smith is available from MX Publishing and can be purchased from their website at the this link]