By Will Barber – Taylor
German Zeppelins rain down death and destruction on London and Doctor Watson is grieving for his nephew, killed on the fields of France.
A cryptic summons from Mycroft Holmes brings Watson with his one-time companion, as Sherlock Holmes comes out of retirement, tasked with solving three unexplained deaths. A politician throws himself into the Thames after giving a pro German speech; a soldier suggests surrender before feeding himself to a tiger and a suffragette renounces women’s liberation before throwing herself under a train. Are these apparent suicides something more sinister, something to do with the mysterious Spirit Box? Their investigation leads them to Ravensthorpe House and the curious Seaton Underwood, a man whose spectrographs are said to capture men’s souls.
Sherlock Holmes The Spirit Box very much is a reflection of the society we live in today. While the story is set nearly a hundred years ago it manages to tap into many of the problems and concerns that effect modern life.
The Spirit Box centres on two themes: the theme of loss and the theme of war. Both are intertwined throughout the book and give the story its backbone. Throughout the story, Watson’s dead nephew is brought up as Watson fights to stop the Germans from winning a war which caused the death of his nephew. The internal struggle Watson feels throughout the book is expertly done and we really do feel for him. Similarly, the character of Seaton Underwood has suffered loss but he deals with it in a much different way to Watson. While Watson’s grief is eventually overcome and dealt with in a positive way, Underwood’s grief is bottled up and not released which results in his ultimate destruction.
The theme of war links in to the theme of loss by Watson’s own loss being connected to a war. The moral validity of war – particularly to an ex-soldier is something that is still being struggled with today. Watson’s loyalty to the crown and the empire means that he feels duty bound to the war but because his own nephew has died because of it, the old soldier feels he must question his ethics. The question of ethics in a war which seems to abandon all the ethics Watson would recognize in conjunction with war means that he faces a dilemma; is a war still a just war when it is created by the meddling of politicians who have no sense of honour? No easy answer is given in the book – as you might expect, seeing as no answer has yet been found in real life.
Sherlock Holmes The Spirit Box also features some great depictions of London with George Mann managing to encapsulate the time perfectly. Particularly scenes which feature Holmes and Watson riding around in early cars are a treat to read as they present great comic reactions from Watson.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes The Spirit Box is an dramatic and enjoyable trip back to an age long gone with Holmes and Watson taking centre stage in a brilliantly paced detective story.