Publisher: Canelo | Publication date: 13th July 2015
As I like the original Sherlock Holmes’ stories just as they are, I generally avoid books that invite this famous character on an uncomfortable journey and then fail to arrive somewhere different. Well, I was intrigued by the premise of this story and so I happily accepted a review request.
First and foremost this book kept me thoroughly entertained, although I will admit to being slightly irked when I discovered how the great man was being portrayed. Brace yourself, as he is reduced to a diluted version of himself while he’s charged with unravelling a puzzle of the fateful variety, and it’s Sherlock’s housekeeper and young maid who are the true ‘brains’ of Baker Street.
We’re talking Mrs Hudson, the no messing domestic who the reader will discover has a proven intelligence sharper than Sherlock, at least in this series. The humble sidekick is not Dr Watson, although he’s in regular attendance, but a young orphan girl by the name of Flotsam, or Flottie as we come to know her. Hers is the voice that will narrate their escapades, yet Watson may wish to publish a ‘tailored’ version of events after the case is solved.
Mrs Hudson has taken Flottie under her wing and offers moral supervision (while learning when to bend the odd rule), tuition into the sciences, and how to tackle a mean looking laundry pile. Their adventure begins one evening when a late evening call to Baker Street results in a menacing letter and curious artefact begging an audience with Holmes. A Mr Nathanial Moran is in dire need of assistance, as he has been cursed by Sumatran villagers following a recent voyage for his business dealings and only one man and his faithful Watson could be considered for the job.
Holmes and Watson publicly attempt to keep Moran and his business associates out of harm’s way until they can discover the source of the deadly threat that has already afflicted some of Moran’s colleagues. Privately, Mrs Hudson embarks on a discreet enquiry of her own and manages to stay one step ahead of the gentlemen duo. Both quests are riddled with despicable deeds and are further hindered by Fogarty, a brutish butler with a vengeful streak, who has it in for Flottie as their paths have regrettably crossed before. I am in no doubt that he is competing for the ‘Moriarty’ award for cruelty.
The mystery unfolds in a true ‘chip away at the little details and all will be revealed’ method, without officially undermining Sherlock’s existing reputation. No, Mrs Hudson is in a league of her own and her investigation is conducted by applying the most appropriate etiquette possible. But, I can’t say whether her morbid fascination for the truth encouraged her to deliberately take chances with young Flottie’s wellbeing. The young ‘un was sent on investigative errands for the housekeeper, which provided many a dangerous lesson at times. Never fear, the remedy for shock is frequently prescribed from a decanter, which leaves me wondering how the girl wasn’t incapacitated for the duration of the case!
Well, despite my initial feelings I soon warmed to the idea that the domestic help are the driving force of 221b Baker Street, as it’s strangely very convincing. While the original stories will always hold a special place in my heart I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with this alternative version of Mrs Hudson – daringly more connected than her employers, with an astute judgement that only a housekeeper of this calibre could possess, this role-reversal with a twist is most certainly worthy of a read.
What if Baker Street’s most gifted resident wasn’t called Sherlock Holmes?
A rollicking new take on Sherlock Holmes: the Kindle #1 bestselling classic crime Mrs Hudson & the Spirits’ Curse, the first Holmes & Hudson Mystery.
An evil stalks London, blown in from the tropics. Stories of cursed giant rats and malign spirits haunt the garrets of Limehouse. A group of merchants are, one by one, dying: murdered, somehow.
The elementary choice to investigate these mysterious deaths is, of course, Holmes and Dr Watson. Yet instead of deduction, it will be the unique gifts of their housekeeper, Mrs Hudson and her orphaned assistant Flotsam that will be needed to solve the case. Can she do it all under the nose of Sherlock himself?
From the coal fire at 221B Baker Street to the smog of Whitechapel and the jungles of Sumatra, from snake bites in grand hotels to midnight carriage chases at the docks, it’s time for Mrs Hudson to step out of the shadows. Playfully breaking with convention, Martin Davies brings a fresh twist to classic Victorian mystery.
The series line up so far…
Martin Davies grew up in north-west England. All his writing is done in cafes, on buses or on trains, and all his first drafts are written in longhand. He has travelled widely, including in the Middle East, India and Sicily. In addition to the Holmes & Hudson Mysteries, he is the author of four other novels, including The Conjurer’s Bird, which sold over 150,000 copies and was selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club and Havana Sleeping, which was shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Historical Dagger award. He works as a consultant in the broadcasting industry.