A pleasing and even poignant adventure for the famous detective.
This sees the world’s most famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes in New York City before he met Dr Watson. In one of his earliest cases, Holmes who is travelling with an acting troupe is joined by the future President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. These allies are both in their twenties and it is years before either has attained greatness. Side by side they must solve a most complicated case that could herald the death of the American Dream.
This is yet another interesting ‘Further Adventures’ Holmes story written by a guest author, with each one bringing their own personal touches or field of expertise. In this case Jeffers is the author of ‘The Bully Pulpit’ a biography of Roosevelt and is therefore perfectly placed in putting a larger than life figure from history together with one of the most famous creations in literature.
There is much to like here and Jeffers has cleverly written his novel as if the events were real. The beginning is like a modern day piece of detective work as in the present day he meets the supposed grandson of Wiggins one of the original Baker Street Irregulars (the band of young boys who often helped gather invaluable information for Holmes).
‘Wiggy’ believes he has found evidence which places Holmes and Roosevelt together in the summer of 1880 and solving a case of national importance no less. The enthusiastic duo find old correspondence as well as case notes written by Roosevelt in the NYPD’s archives.
This is where the story is picked up with a young Theodore Roosevelt as narrator (Holmes was not to meet Watson until nearly half a year later). The plot involves a murder, political skulduggery, a conspiracy and a planned assassination attempt on President Rutherford B. Hayes no less.
Holmes and Roosevelt are a literary match made in heaven. Both like boxing, science, action, adventure and have a strong sense of civic duty. Holmes is also a fencer and Roosevelt was adept at stick fighting. The former President was also a voracious reader with a photographic memory. Reading this you wonder why no other authors have thought of this pairing before.
This book is a clever blend of fact melding with fiction. Jeffers has managed to capture the time and setting perfectly – New York in the late nineteenth century is an exciting, colourful, vibrant and of course corrupt and incredibly dangerous place.
Having Holmes visiting the states under an alias and performing with a troupe of actors is a stroke of genius: as any self respecting fan of Holmes will know he is a master of disguise and what better place to learn than by treading the boards?
Throughout the book there are clever references and quotes pertaining to both men. There is of course the famous Holmes line ‘The game’s afoot.’
Also one of the supporting characters utters a variation on the famous Roosevelt saying ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ when he remarks ‘Teddy Speaks quietly but carries a big fist.’
There are many more but one that stood out for me was a quote from Roosevelt’s father which is again used here ‘If you are going to hit a man put him to sleep!’ These all add to the authenticity as well as enjoyment of the novel. Historians will enjoy the ‘in-references’ while fans of crime fiction get an entertaining story as well as a history lesson.
New York locations are used to good effect such as the Hudson River, Broadway, 42nd Street, Madison Square, Manhattan, Gramercy Park and the notorious Five Points (those who have read the book by Herbert Asbury or seen the film ‘Gangs of New York’ will know what I mean).
These are mean streets indeed and not dissimilar to Holmes’ own London in all its gas lit, fog shrouded menace.
Other nice nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books are the homeless newsboys who aid Holmes much as the Baker Street Irregulars would later do. Instead of dear old Mrs Hudson he has an Italian landlady who dotes on him.. Holmes’ usual expertise on the different varieties of tobacco, forensic evidence and ballistics are also in evidence as well as his powers of deductive reasoning. At one point even the violin comes out (although it is not the famous Stradivarius of later adventures).
The story itself is a little thin which is a shame as it is such a brilliant and original concept and premise. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure I did a little research myself and learned that Roosevelt detested being called ‘Teddy' so it is unlikely that Detective Hargreave and Holmes would have got away with calling him that without a sharp rebuke!
The note section at the end is impressive and shows that Jeffers is an unashamed fan of both Holmes and Roosevelt; he has certainly done his homework! The notes are exhaustive and for some may prove exhausting. It was however fascinating to learn that Roosevelt became NYPD Commissioner in 1895, tantalizingly (and helping Jeffers story even more) this is known to Holmes fans as the ‘lost year’ and Jeffers makes an inference that during this period when Holmes was missing he was in fact helping and advising his old friend: another neat blend of fact melding with fiction.
Overall this is a pleasing and even poignant adventure for the famous detective and manages to hit all the right notes. Jeffers should be heartily commended on brining two big characters together for an exciting adventure like this.
First Published 1978 this edition published 2010 by Titan Books
Review by Daniel Cann
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