Sherlock Holmes and the Dead Boer at Stepney Castle by Tim Symonds

Review by Chris Redmond

Watson never wrote like this, and nobody, least of all Sherlock Holmes, ever talked like this: Tim Symonds's book is a pastiche of Victorian diction, malapropisms and irrelevant facts skimmed from some encyclopaedia. There are scores of grammatical errors, the punctuation is sloppy, the capitalization is capricious and some sentences seem to be missing words. One wonders why someone would venture to write a Sherlock Holmes story without a willingness to pay closer attention to accuracy, not to mention a reliable idea of how Watson's clear and muscular prose sounds.

Beyond the grotesque English, the reader has to deal with a tiresome quirk of the author's style: long catalogues of specifics, as when the contents of a room are inventoried with colours, styles, brand names and frequently provenances — information that Watson could not possibly have obtained or even noticed in the time available. Sometimes such lists, and there are many of them, merely sound affected; at other times they turn bizarre, as with the claim that certain artifacts were brought to England by camels bearing Gladstone bags. There are also absolute howlers, such as the author's apparent belief that a gazetteer contains biographical information, that a dog-cart is pulled by a dog, and that British trains have Pullman cars.

One wonders also why MX Publishing, which seems to have some commitment to the Sherlockian tradition as a whole, would publish such a book without serious editing and without the visible ministrations of a graphic designer. (Surprisingly, however, the cover is sophisticated and attractive.)

It is hard to get beyond all these difficulties to an appreciation of the actual story, but it is worth the effort. Tim Symonds's Holmes and Watson are true to character, by and large, and the occasional Holmes-like turn of phrase shines through. And although the plot depends too much on geopolitics, the central events and clues are convincing and even clever.

The book runs to something like 100,000 words, half again as long as the longest of the Canonical novels. It could sensibly have been condensed to a novelette, or better still to a first-rate short story of perhaps 7,000 words. The author would have had to sacrifice many pages of irrelevant description and stilted conversation, particularly a long and repetitive dispute between Holmes and Watson, and the reader would have been much, much better off.