By Will Barber – Taylor
It is 1913 and Doctor Watson is visiting Sherlock Holmes at his retirement home near Eastbourne when tragedy strikes; the body of a young man, Patrick Mallinson, is found under the cliffs of Beachy Head. The dead man’s father, a wealthy business man, engages Holmes to prove that his son committed suicide as the result of a failed love affair with an older woman. Yet the woman in question insists that there is more to Patrick’s death. She has seen mysterious symbols drawn on his body and fears that he was under the influence of a malevolent cult. When an attempt is made on Watson’s life it seems that she may be proved right. The threat of war hangs over England, and there is no telling what sinister force is at work.
This book is like many of the works that Titan publish, part of a series (not always following the same continuity) which chronicle the adventures of Sherlock Holmes outside the stories written by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Though the books may not always be the best they are always interesting and give a fresh take on Doyle’s classic creation.
This particular tale is set after the great detective has retired to beekeeping in the Sussex downs. This is a particularly interesting time to set a Holmes novel as the years after his retirement are not always explored. It also opens up a greater uncertainty as to whether Holmes will overcome his foe or not. There are several remarks by Watson to the effect that Holmes is becoming slower and it makes the reader less sure whether he will make it out of the situation alive or not.
The characterisation of Holmes and Watson is excellently done. Holmes is his typical unearthly self but unlike a lot of writers Lovegrove manages to add some humour to the part of the character. Holmes in the original stories does have a good sense of humour but this is something that isn’t always utilised in books written by people other than Conan Doyle. Also, included is Holmes particular sort of morality, something writers don’t always tend to get. Holmes believes due to his free agent status, that he is outside the law if he believes that he is best suited to deal with the case, which we see here. Lovegrove very much manages to capture the many sides of Holmes and make him a fully rounded character, as Doyle intended, rather than a caricature or weak impersonator. Lovegrove gives Sherlock Holmes a new breath of life like no other writer has before. He does not “cop out” in terms of being faithful to the character’s origins and personality but also manages to add his own small flares which help make the character his own.
Lovegrove also manages to give good characterisation to Watson. His Watson feels very much like the Nigel Bruce interpretation of the character but a bit smarter and without as much blustering. Lovegrove makes Watson, like Holmes, his own while still retaining the trademarks that make the characters unique.
Lovegrove also creates some great characters of his own which stand out very well. From the local Inspector and thorn in Holmes’s side Tasker, to the dead boy’s father Clive Mallinson, Lovegrove manages to make all his characters varied and interesting. Of particular note is Elizabeth Vandenbergh who is Patrick’s girlfriend. She is fantastically written and with such obvious care that she feels like a real person. She also feels quite similar to Conan Doyle’s creation of Irene Adler. She has the same wit and sophistication of Adler but with the added bonus of having Holmes’s own analytical skills.
Lovegrove is particularly successful in representing Eastbourne in true Edwardian glory. He gives great detail to the town and its seafront in particular. Lovegrove manages to truly transport the reader back in time to the era the book is set in.
All in all, Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War is a fantastic, atmospheric thriller which brings Holmes back in style. I would highly recommend the book to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes novels with a twist. Lovegrove explores an area of the Holmesian canon that is not always shown and does it with style and finesse.
With thanks to Titan books.