The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson

Review by Chris Redmond

There isn't all that much about this comic mystery novel that's Sherlockian, really. It starts and ends in Baker Street — not in the comfortable Victorian rooms where Holmes and Watson dwell, but in a modern lawyer's office — but otherwise most of the action is set in Los Angeles, in hotels, back alleys, subway construction sites (who knew that Los Angeles has a subway system anyway?) and a great many taxis. Still, a completist will certainly want to make note of it.

The Baker Street connection involves the tradition that the occupant of number 221 in that hugely rebuilt urban thoroughfare is responsible for answering the letters that drift in from all over the world addressed to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Some years ago an anthology of such letters, amusing and touching and occasionally thought-provoking, was published; more recently there's been a slight memoir by Tony Harries, who for some years was “secretary to Mr. Holmes” under the aegis of the public relations department at the Abbey National Building Society, whose headquarters took up a full block in precisely the right spot in Baker Street. As a hook for his first novel, Michael Robertson has lightly disguised Abbey National as "Dorset National," leased some surplus square footage to a playboy solicitor, created a letter to Sherlock Holmes about a genuine crime, and let the plot unfold from there.

Robertson, who (according to the dust jacket) lives in California, has wisely set most of the book on home territory. The Pasadena Geological Institute, where some of the key events take place, is probably (how could a Canadian know for sure?) a thinly disguised Caltech. Los Angeles comes across to the reader as less glamorous than many other writers have made it, though less sordid than in many examples of the mean-streets genre. This slight book is, let's repeat, essentially comic, its detectives less than fearsome, its cabs endlessly available, its alleys free of junkies.

And it's too bad that the author only has time to tell about one of the unceasing stream of letters addressed to Mr. Holmes. If he feels inclined to reach more deeply into the pile, he definitely has the formula for a sequel available to him.