By Will Barber Taylor
It is 1891 and a Catholic Priest arrives at 221b Baker Street, only to utter the words “il corpe” before suddenly dropping dead.
Though the man’s death is attributed to cholera, when news of any dead priest reaches Holmes, he becomes convinced that the men have been poisoned. He and Watson learn that the victims were on a mission from the Vatican to investigate a miracle; it is said that the body of eighteenth century philanthropist and slave trader Edwyn Warwick had not decomposed. But should the Pope canonise a man who made his fortune through slavery? And when Warwick’s body is stolen, it becomes clear that the priests’ mission has attracted the attention of a deadly conspiracy.
The world of Sherlock Holmes has always been one of intrigue, mystery and adventure. This is not simply encapsulated within the stories that Holmes inhabits but in the creating of the tales themselves. Many people have thought they could write Sherlock Holmes well – a certain Steven Moffatt is amongst them – yet the task of writing a new Holmes tale is not easy. To be truly successful it has to be a mixture of pastiche and unique invention, something which Cavan Scott magnificently succeeds in with his new Holmes book City of the Innocents.
Scott’s book brilliantly takes Holmes into an area not always explored in Conan Doyle’s original canon; religion. Doyle himself was a highly spiritual man and some of the later Holmes stories see traces of his faith permeating the cases which Holmes solved. Scott’s mix of this with another area which Doyle very rarely touched upon – slavery – make the book stand out. Rather than attempt to give Holmes opinions which would be accepted today but seen as odd during the Victorian period, Scott enables the character to tackle the issues in a way that allows the reader to understand his point of view without alienating them from it.
Scott’s unique plot is also well balanced with his characterisation of the main players in the story. Scott devotes a welcome amount of time to Mary Watson, fleshing out a character who – though instrumental in the plot of The Sign of Four – is a peripheral figure in the Holmes canon. Scott does not attempt to turn her into a Jason Bourne style secret agent, as Sherlock did but gives her welcome presence in the tales and some good sequences to show off her intelligence.
Overall, City of the Innocent is a fast paced, adventurous and new type of Sherlock Holmes story which artfully balances the traditional with the innovative. Scott’s story is sure to be a treat for any Sherlock Holmes fan and is an excellent addition to the vault of Holmes stories.