Review by Chris Redmond
I naturally welcome any Sherlockian book that has a Canadian origin and setting — parts of this one take place in Toronto in 1929, and the author is Toronto writer Angela Misri — and Jewel of the Thames has other things going for it as well. Although it may be aimed largely at a “young adult” audience, it will have lots of appeal for a general Sherlockian readership.
Misri is by no means the first author to set a Sherlockian book in an era later than the 1890s, and to make the protagonist (how can this be said with a minimum of spoiler?) somehow connected to Sherlock Holmes and his Dr. Watson. There have been sons of Sherlock and daughters of Sherlock, grandsons of Watson and, I rather think, nieces of Mrs. Hudson. The present book follows the deeds and thoughts of Portia Adams, orphaned in Toronto as a young woman, dragged off to London by a mysterious friend of her grandmother, enticed (by means that need not be described here) into an interest in solving crime, and eventually connected to a quite remarkable heritage.
More than one Canonical character is eventually drawn into the back story. And Misri deserves much credit as the first pastiche author, so far as I'm aware, to make something of Constance Adams, a curious figure who was invented by Arthur Conan Doyle and married off to John H. Watson, not in the Canon itself but in his (until recently) unpublished play “Angels of Darkness,” about Watson's early life in frontier-era San Francisco. (Yes, really.) Constance Adams was brought into fanon, so to speak, by William S. Baring-Gould in Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street half a century ago, but I wonder how many Sherlockians are aware of her. They should be, and Misri will make at least a few more of them take due notice.
The volume is divided into three “casebooks” describing mysteries that Portia solves while she is gradually exploring the mystery of her own life. Two of the three depend on ingenious devices that, one suspects, would be harder for criminals to execute successfully than they are for an author to describe, but they're not totally absurd. And the third mystery — essentially a locked-room affair aboard a speeding train — is less Dr. Thorndyke and more Sherlock Holmes. Portia is an able detective and her investigations are well told.
The book is not without grammatical errors and oddities; few books nowadays are. But much of the dialogue, London background, and 1930 customs that Misri provides ring true. (A striking exception is her idea of Somerville College, Oxford, which as she portrays it is definitely North American and 21st century. And she has a rather different idea from the dictionary's about the meaning of the word “reticule.”) There are none of the moody flashbacks and unpredictable shifts in viewpoint that afflict many Sherlockian novels these days; Jewel of the Thames is easy reading, and captivating too.