Review by Chris Redmond
It is a pleasure to read a pastiche — a Sherlockian novel — that involves no master criminals, no international intrigue, no plots to overthrow the monarchy. Winking Tree by Amy Thomas eschews those annoyingly common plot elements, in favour of a simple mystery in which Sherlock Holmes relies on down-to-earth clues and an analysis of personalities and relationships to ensure that the handcuffs are eventually snapped onto the correct wrists. It is a relief to read.
Winking Tree does differ from the conventional or platonic Holmes adventure in a couple of ways, however. One unusual feature is the social (and geographical) milieu in which it is set: neither the country houses of the wealthy nor — more typical of the authentic Canon — the money-bound middle-class life of London's crowded streets. Instead, the events of this tale take place in a Sussex village, some of them indeed on a farm, and they are so simply told that the minutiae of Victorian life, so much a feature of Holmes's usual appeal, are noticed only rarely.
The "winking tree" is a botanical feature of the village, the detective is of course Holmes, and The Woman is, yes, Irene Adler, who resides in the community (albeit feeling something of an outsider) and calls in Holmes to address a mysterious disappearance. Here we have the novel's other feature of interest, one that many other authors have also made bold to use. Amy Thomas's Irene, however, is a much milder Woman than, say, the flamboyant figure who appears in Carole Nelson Douglas's series of novels. In these pages it is not clear why the fire has gone out of Ms. Adler since her days of intimacy with the King of Bohemia, but there clearly is some back story, including intermediate adventures in which she came to know Holmes on terms of close friendship and understanding. (It would be unfair to the reader to say more just now.)
Amy Thomas writes plainly and without irritating errors. Some chapters are written in the third person, particularly when the focus is on Sherlock Holmes; others are in the first person, in Irene Adler's voice. It seems an unnecessarily complicated way of telling so slight and bucolic a tale, but it does allow the reader to follow Irene's thoughts about emotional and interpersonal matters, and particularly the mind of Sherlock Holmes. She has many such thoughts, and it is not difficult to imagine that a sequel or prequel to this book would be of great interest.