Originally published some 20 years ago, this collection features five intertwined investigations, written in the spirit of the greatest detective of all time. The modern-day protagonist originally hated his middle name – ‘Sherlock’ of course – with which his Holmes-obsessed father had burdened him. But ‘Sherl’ gradually develops a similar fixation with scientific deduction, and starts up Baskerville’s detective agency in partnership with a pal. His partner acts as a substitute for Dr Watson, which gives Sherl plenty of opportunity to expound upon his theories. In theory, his speciality is rigid application of the Holmesian method of deduction… although in practice these stories lack the idiosyncratic insights and impressive intellect of Conan Doyle’s original.
Set at the end of the 20th century, each standalone story offers a single investigation into the kind of crime which might’ve attracted the attention of the great man himself – a missing journalist who could’ve been abducted by UFOs; the kidnappers who ransomed the same person twice. Sherl’s stories feature a cast of characters which reflect current concerns: pop stars, animal right activists and a suspicious stalker. They’re written in modern language without any pretentions towards mimicking Conan Doyle’s style, and each episode contains a cornucopia of clues, typically British supporting characters, and plenty of red herrings.
In keeping with the original stories, these aren’t shockers or thrillers, but gently entertaining and pleasantly puzzling mysteries. Initially, Sherl’s discomfort at playing his role (complete with period costume) is reflected in the somewhat uninspired opening investigation – but the writing tightens as the character becomes more proficient in the later stories. So if you’re not immediately struck by the first story, I’d suggest you stick with it.
There are moments which didn’t work for me – when Sherl gets involved in fisticuffs, for instance; that being the more normal role of the Dr Watson character. It also felt a little strange that these investigations were related in the first-person, from Sherl’s perspective rather than being told by the faithful companion. Similarly, I suspect that if you’re a fan of the Benedict Cumberbatch TV series then these will seem somewhat twee and maybe a little lacking in cryptic wit. (It can’t be a coincidence that the figure on the cover illustration looks a lot like BC — don’t be misled! These are NOT stories from the TV show).
Instead, this is a selection of solid mystery stories in the grand old English tradition, even down to uncanny happenings and things that go bump in the night. They don’t lean too far towards nostalgia or intellectual obscurity, nor do they feel like a pastiche of the original Sherlock stories. A pleasant afternoon’s entertainment.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Sherlock Effect by Raymond Kay Lyon is available as an ebook or paperback
Grab this gripping collection of crime-thrillers at Amazon