Let’s face it – there are thousands of Sherlock Holmes pastiches out there. The world and his dog have all had a go at trying to re-capture the magic of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories with very varied degrees of success. Some try to ‘do their own thing’ with the world’s favourite consulting detective, putting him in space, the future, New York, modern day, into sexual relationships (both straight, gay and both) or simply weave him into another character’s story. But most try to write a story, narrated by Dr Watson, which sounds so authentic it’s as if someone has uncovered a lost manuscript from the pen of Doyle himself (or Watson, if you prefer to play the great game.) Sadly, almost all fail in recreating Watson’s voice and the genius of Doyle’s story-telling.
So it’s always nice to come across a book like Art in the Blood, a Sherlock Holmes novel written in the traditional style by author Bonnie MacBird and published by HarperCollins. I must confess here that I do consider Bonnie a personal friend, but I think that actually gives me a good insight into understanding why her debut novel is so enjoyable – she is a genuine, knowledgeable, passionate fan of the canon (as well as of Jeremy Brett and BBC Sherlock.) This isn’t some cynical attempt by a writer to cash-in on the current popularity of Holmes, this is a labour of love – and it shows.
Art in the Blood is meticulously researched and written in the true spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It is full of subtle, well-placed canon references and both historical and geographical accuracies that give it real gravitas. The author has done an excellent job of re-creating that warm, humorous, self-deprecating, no-nonsense voice of Dr Watson that all Sherlockians know and love. The friendship between Holmes and Watson sings out from the pages and is both touching and authentic. The science of deduction, the very exact and unique way in which Holmes reaches his conclusions in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works, is well replicated here and very cleverly explained.
The plot itself is great fun – a beautiful French singer, a missing love-child, the theft of a priceless work of art, all woven together into a tale which soon becomes hard to put down. We have a very capable Watson, intelligent and brave, willing to risk his own safety for his friend. In Holmes we see the imperfections we all love to analyse, his drug use, his malaise when in need of work, his ferocious energy when set upon a case. It’s so hard to get these elements right, but Bonnie MacBird has mastered it. There is a lightness of touch here which is so often lacking in pastiche, and the novel is all the more enjoyable for it.
After finishing Art in the Blood, I made the mistake of watching ITV’s Houdini and Doyle which I had recorded from earlier in the week. From one extreme to another! But I’ll save my thoughts on that for another blog…