This adventure is set in the spring of 1912 and sees a now retired Sherlock Holmes living a quiet life in Sussex bee keeping. He is now 58 years old and as faithful companion and chronicler Watson notes ‘the receding hair on his temples was flecked with grey.’
Watson, who by now is himself 59, admits that they are a little too old to be fighting crime; Holmes even needs the assistance of a walking cane from time to time. There is a certain wistfulness and yearning for the old days which makes this outing more poignant and even more dangerous given that the once formidable and energetic duo are slower and therefore more vulnerable.
Holmes and Watson travel to New York City to investigate the assassination of true-life muckraker and author David Graham Phillips. They soon find themselves in a web of deceit, violence and political intrigue.
What I like about this entry is that Victor has blended fact and fiction so well. The often inflammatory Phillips was killed in Gramercy Park in suspicious circumstances in January 1911 and who better to investigate a possible political conspiracy than the world’s most famous consulting detective?
Victor has effortlessly captured the personality and narrative voice of Watson and I am sure Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have approved of the way his characters have been treated with such reverence and skill. Mrs Hudson lives with Holmes in Sussex and even Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars makes an appearance. Victor has certainly done his homework and illustrates a profound knowledge not just of Phillips but of all things Holmesian.
The famous stage actor and Holmes performer William Gillette’s gift of a calabash pipe for the real Holmes is a nice touch as is a lovely moment when an American asks for an autograph from Holmes in the mistaken belief that he is Gillette. Holmes himself is as bohemian and as untidy as ever with books and test tubes everywhere at his Sussex home.
The writing style of Victor is very descriptive and it is easy to picture place and setting as events unfold. He has managed to produce an exciting detective novel around a shocking murder that seemed to be conveniently overlooked and closed without thorough investigation such were the strong feelings towards the outspoken Phillips.
In fact I found myself fascinated by the political polemicist who was clearly for the oppressed and was a strong critic any perceived abuse of power or the appearance of democracy when in fact there was none. No wonder his piece ‘The Treason of the Senate’ gained him so many powerful enemies! The themes of rooting out political corruption and the right to freedom of speech are very much modern issues and Phillips views on political corruption reverberate even today.
Watson’s descriptions of New York are vibrant, lively and exhilarating as seen through his eyes. As he says the city was perceived as the ‘gateway to the new world’ in 1912. It was amusing as a fan of Holmes to read of the two very Victorian friends travelling in the new invention of the motor car, using telephones and electricity. Watson even remarks how he longs for the old days and feels he still belongs in the 1890s. As we get older many readers will relate to his emotions and thoughts expressed here.
Most importantly, Victor through Watson, manages to weave an atmosphere of deception, distrust and paranoia as the roll call of shadowy characters appear, many of them some very big powerful historical names from politics and the media. The novel is packed with NYC lore and the hustle and bustle of life is captured vividly. I was enthralled as I read about Watson’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and perhaps a little out of his comfort zone.
Another strong point is that Watson is portrayed as a tough, resourceful, capable and perceptive individual as he should be. Other authors and certainly film makers have often got the character wrong making him a mere sidekick or buffoon rather than the loyal educated and qualified man he was of the Doyle canon. Well, Victor gets Watson right, so kudos there.
The main issue for Holmes and Watson is to uncover the truth: was the assassination the work of a lone fanatic as portrayed by the authorities, press and NYPD or a Machiavellian conspiracy coming from the very top of American society? Who is really pulling the strings and who can really be trusted?
Some readers may find that at times Victor concentrates too much on his historical knowledge and dwells on the politicians rather than giving us frenetic action and twists. Also sharp eyed readers with even a reasonable grasp of history can see the pay-off ending coming before it happens (no spoilers here), nonetheless this is a fun and engaging outing for the Baker Street pair and introduces an important and influential historical figure whose ideas are just as relevant today.
First Published 1992 this edition published 2010 by Titan Books
Review by Daniel Cann
1 positive reader review(s) for The Seventh Bullet
James from United States
Victor has expertly captured the Holmes and Watson characters, the atmosphere and the plotting of the Canon. While I thought Victor's methodical interviewing of the many Senators was overly tedious and trying to pad out the plot, at first, I was suddenly satisfied when Holmes asks Beveridge: "Tell me, how do account for the uniformity of so many of your colleagues?" Beveridge responds: "I believe you'll find, Mr. Holmes, that professional politicians learn to deal with certain topics in similar ways....." Holmes' response is subtly sceptical and Beveridge says: "You seem to disagree with my explanation. Do you have another idea?" Holmes' response is classic: "Only the obvious one. That all these men have discussed in advance precisely what they were going to tell us." One critical thing that Watson forgot to report that Holmes clearly would have noticed was that all of the events involved in their investigation point to obstruction: Beveridge's manipulating the interviews and forcing Holme's to stay within certain bounds, the police controlling and limiting the access to information, etc. The plot twists were wonderful and the final twist was superb, solving what I was expecting to be unsolvable. Victor is especially deft at weaving, Holmes, Watson and the plot into the history. One of the best pastiches.
8.5/10 from 2 reviews