Sherlock Holmes and the Rosetta Stone Mystery is the first of Linda Stratmann‘s novels following the consulting detective in the making. Tom Williams, author of the Napoleonic era-set James Burke adventures and the darker John Williamson books, finds it “rather wonderful”.
The world is full of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Most of them, to be honest, are not very good. Those that stand up as good, modern detective stories are seldom true to the style and feel of Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals.
That’s hardly surprising. He was writing well over 100 years ago of a world that is now alien to us and in a style that is similarly alien to most writers. When somebody does produce a novel that truly reflects the originals, it’s likely that it won’t really appeal to a modern audience.
Hats off, then, to Linda Stratmann for her rather wonderful Sherlock Holmes and the Rosetta Stone Mystery. The Sherlock Holmes she presents us with is a convincing representation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s and the style is remarkably similar.
Stratmann is an excellent writer, but pulling off this trick requires more than a facility with words. It needs an idea that will allow us to tread the well-worn paths of the Holmesian mythos without trampling on Dr Watson’s toes.
Stratmann achieves this by identifying a gap in the Sherlock Holmes timeline between 1875, when many Holmesian scholars estimate that he would have left university, and 1881 when he meets Dr Watson.
The young Holmes, who Conan Doyle tells us was “filling in my too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science which might make me more efficient” meets a medical student, Mr Stamford. (If we are ever told his Christian name, I missed it.) Stamford ends up helping Holmes with his work, fulfilling exactly the same role as Dr Watson.
Stamford’s account of his adventures with Holmes has a nice feel for the period. Like Watson, he admires Holmes hugely, but he is a little less hagiographic in his approach, which is all to the good and more likely to appeal to the 21st-century reader.
This Holmes shares (naturally enough) many of the characteristics of Conan Doyle’s creation, but is notably younger and probably a lot easier to live with. There’s no cocaine, at any rate. It’s interesting to see the outline of the future man in the young protagonist here.
Stratmann obviously knows the canon. Stamford is mentioned in Conan Doyle’s books as the man who introduces Watson to Holmes. Lestrade appears here as a lowly sergeant. There are references to Holmes’ obsession with the idea that crime in London is all ultimately controlled by a single mastermind – an obsession that will end in a deadly conflict at the Reichenbach Falls.
Stratmann also knows the London of her period, as illustrated in the detailed historical notes at the end of the book. A lot of historical detail has been woven into the story, but, like all the best historical novelists, Stratmann wears her learning lightly and we are never bogged down with unnecessary detail.
But what of the story? Is it any good?
Yes, it is. The Sherlock Holmes stories are not great detective stories by the standards of the Golden Age of crime fiction. It’s much easier to solve many of Conan Doyle’s puzzles than Christie’s and when you can’t it’s often because crucial information is not revealed until very late in the telling.
Some of the most famous stories (I’d suggest The Hound of the Baskervilles for example) are hardly detective stories at all – more ‘tales of mystery and adventure’. In this context the Rosetta Stone Mystery stands up well. I managed to work out the ‘how’, though not the ‘who’ (a classic example of Holmes revealing vital information to Stamford only after he has unmasked the villain).
There is a romance sub-plot that works well – and Stratmann has resisted the temptation of many modern writers to give Holmes himself a love-life.
It’s a lot of fun and should appeal to Sherlock Holmes fans and anyone who enjoys an undemanding mystery.
He has written a number of features for Historia linked to his research for his novels, including:
When my Spanish research trip went astray
Why I wrote about Irish history
Researching the Land of Silver, about his adventures in Argentina
Re-examining the history of Empire in fact and fiction
Plaque which used to be on the front of Abbey House, which was numbered 221 Baker St in the 1930s. (The plaque has mysteriously gone missing, appropriately enough): Wikimedia
Sherlock Holmes statue, Marylebone Road NW1 (near Baker Street): Robin Sones via Geograph