Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis

Review by Chris Redmond

Any Sherlockian author can adopt the voice of Dr. Watson — not all are equally successful at it, true, but the style and conventions are at least well known. Not every author can write a Sherlock Holmes mystery and make Pope Leo XIII the narrator. Ann Margaret Lewis, in this slim volume of three stories, achieves both voices more than creditably.

It is well known from the Canon that Holmes investigated the death of Cardinal Tosca at the Pope's request, and also dealt with the little matter of the Vatican cameos. A third Canonically attested case, that of the two Coptic patriarchs, does not explicitly involve the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Lewis makes it do so, and turns all three investigations into stories that are more than satisfactory as mysteries and as pieces of writing, although her Watsonian style is a bit breezy and modern.

And what of the Pope as narrator of the middle story, the one about the cameos? Such a device could easily be embarrassingly bad, and it is not. It is successful, almost plausible, and it also serves to intrigue the reader, provoking a wish to know a bit more about this Italian nobleman who as Pope made an important contribution to the church's teachings and action in the direction of social justice. (In this particular reader, it also provoked curiosity about whether the author has read the wild and eccentric novel Hadrian VII about an imaginary nineteenth-century Pope.)

The author is obviously, and acceptably, an admirer of Leo XIII and of the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed of traditional Christianity in general. She takes a number of opportunities to bring out Christian teaching, particularly in the words and actions she attributes to the Pope. And her Sherlock Holmes, while remaining non-Catholic, rationalist and (if not Anglican) positively English, accepts and admires much of what the Pope says and does. This is a religious book in a very pleasant and tolerant way. It's also a book of three pretty good Sherlock Holmes stories.