Collard spent much of her life in theatre management, and has “written and directed children's plays and documentaries", a note explains. "She developed performances for children based on history, in which the audience were totally involved.” This background shows, as the narrative is highly theatrical (in the old sense of unrealistic and highly coloured) and somewhat more suited to young readers than to adults. Parts of The Baskerville Inheritance read rather like a Hardy Boys adventure, in fact. It does not imitate many recent Sherlock Holmes books for youngsters by having the action focus on children or teens, but Holmes does call on the Baker Street Irregulars often, and give them more complicated assignments than anything found in the Canon itself. (There is also, pleasingly, a two-year-old boy who appears several times and wins both the reader's heart and Holmes's.)
The story is entirely told by Watson, but this is a Watson with a difference. Collard, either because she knows how difficult it is to maintain Victorian diction, or because she suspects that her audience would have trouble if she did manage to keep it up, has not even pretended to attempt the elaborate, precise, limpid style we admire so much. Instead she has Watson tell the story in modern English, clear and a bit slangy. Come to think of it, haven’t the Hardy Boys also been rewritten for readers of a new century?
As a result, the narrative moves along well — that theatrical background is evident in some of the more exciting scenes, which are told almost in stage directions. Collard does manage to introduce fragments of Victorian atmosphere here and there, although I am dubious that Holmes and Watson could have obtained breakfast on a Victorian train. (For that matter, I am dubious about one of the essential plot points, that someone could have been imprisoned in Dartmoor without trial in the 1890s, but the whole point of the story is that very exceptional things were going on, so that objection can perhaps be waived.)
What started off as Stapleton vs. Holmes, round two, acquires national security implications by the middle of the book, and by the end of it Holmes is dealing with a threat to the Queen’s life and the freedom of the British nation. Many pastiches are similarly over the top, and it's hard to think of a single one that is improved by being an international thriller rather than a Sherlock Holmes story. The Baskerville Inheritance is no exception. It rather reminds me of the 1960s musical “Baker Street” with its melodrama around Victoria's security during the Diamond Jubilee — hmm, theatre again.
The book, at least in its print form, has some quirks in its design and punctuation. However, unlike so many other self-published Sherlockian volumes, it is strikingly legible, with bold, clear, well-spaced type. The designer was presumably unusually aware of legibility issues because of the geriatric difficulties faced by the author, who happens to be her grandmother.
Despite its imperfections, The Baskerville Inheritance is a work to be proud of, and an interesting contribution to Sherlockian what-might-have-been from an author from whom, so far as I am aware, we have not previously heard.
Copyright © Chris Redmond 2012