The 1895 Murder by Dan Andriacco

Review by Chris Redmond

The 1895 Murder is the third in Dan Andriacco's series of light mystery novels with a Sherlockian background. They are set at and around St. Benignus College in Erin, Ohio — a caricature of any number of little Catholic institutions of the kind Andriacco must know well from his day job with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Again, the narrator is mild-mannered public relations man Thomas Jefferson Cody, and the principal detective and comic figure is his portly brother-in-law (and professor of popular culture), Sebastian McCabe.

This third novel has rather less Sherlockian content than its two predecessors, No Police Like Holmes and Holmes Sweet Holmes. The murder mystery (and other plotlines, notably the preparations for Cody's long-awaited wedding to the luscious Lynda Teal) take place against only a faintly sketched background of an amateur production based on “The Bruce-Partington Plans”. The play's author of course is McCabe, who figures in all three novels as a Sherlockian of some distinction, an avid book collector, an egotist and eccentric, and an amateur sleuth who gets to the heart of things despite the usual scepticism from those around him. His play bears the title “1895”, acknowledging the year in which “Bruce-Partington” takes place. “Apparently,” Andriacco has his narrator comment, “it also has great symbolic value to Sherlockians as a magic year or something. Mac even brandishes those four digits on the rear end of his 1959 Chevy in the form of an oval bumper sticker.” (Those stickers are, or were, distributed by Matt Laffey of, as the author acknowledges in his own voice.)

The murder victim is a stranger in town with no connection to the amateur players other than getting bumped off outside the theatre during the opening performance. Several of the suspects are involved in the show in one way or another, though, with McCabe himself playing Mycroft Holmes, a role he has managed to expand considerably in his dramatic adaptation. Once the events of the plot get rolling, the focus is no longer on anything Sherlockian — except for a few tense moments when McCabe's theatrical rival insists on a rewrite of the play's ending. “Apparently,” McCabe huffs, “the Holmes brothers saving the empire and Holmes being called to Windsor to receive an emerald tiepin from his grateful queen is not dramatic enough!” It is never made clear what the new ending will be, but the narrator does say that the killer in the real-life mystery is, like the villain on stage, someone “close to home”.

Andriacco's narrative is quick reading, and the violence is quickly dispensed with; there's nothing gruesome. Similarly, he alludes to sex without having to describe it — Cody's frequent appreciative remarks about his fiancée are no more than coy. And though there is no slapstick, there's frequent wit and superficial humour.

Sherlockians will certainly enjoy this book, but consdidering the direction Andriacco is taking Cody and McCabe, this could be the last of their adventures that justifies a review in a Sherlockian milieu.