BOOK REVIEW: SHERLOCK HOLMES – THE SPIRIT BOX / AUTHOR: GEORGE MANN / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It's World War One, and Holmes has been called from retirement by his brother, Mycroft, to look into three suicides. Watson is alone in London enduring the war and missing his wife who is in the country. Holmes and Watson investigate and are soon drawn into the world of spiritualism and the mysteries of the human soul. What is happening at Ravensthorpe House and what is the secret of the spectrographic photographs said to capture a man’s soul!?
Although time has passed, leaving the Victorian era far behind, the London of Holmes and Watson is still recognisable, even if it has been embellished with motor vehicles and German air raids. The format of the story sticks close to tradition, as might be expected from a Holmes expert such as Mann. Holmes is mysterious and still a genius, Watson more measured, his reaction to events coloured by recent experiences in his family (a nephew has died in the trenches). Spiritualism – a fascination of Conan Doyle's – is worked into the narrative without overdoing things.
George Mann has expanded the characters to include his own Sir Maurice Newbury. This gives a pivot point for the plot and allows the action to flow round the various locales, making this more than just a simple detective tale. Of course, there is a dénouement with all the players in the Diogenes Club and we expect nothing less. By the end, we have had all the staples of a great Conan Doyle tale and a respectable story with well-crafted updates to both Holmes and Watson. World War One is more than just a backdrop – not only does it provide a context for plot strands to do with German spies, but it is also a very real presence.
Our only complaint about The Spirit Box is that it is over too soon. Fortunately, there is every chance that this Holmes and Watson will be back shortly.
The Spirit Box also contains a short story set in the author’s other connected works, the world of Newbury and Hobbes. It tells of the pursuit of the mysterious Lady Arkwell and gives more insight into the figure of Sir Maurice Newbury. It is really an expanded anecdote, but it is entertaining and serves its purpose in raising the reader’s curiosity as to these other stories.