Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye by Len Bailey

Review by Chris Redmond

This book is comprehensively awful, and no Sherlockian need give it reading time or shelf space. Its only audience might be a few individuals who are interested in oddities in the Bible (such as the true reason why Ahithophel of Giloh hanged himself) but prefer to have the explanations of such matters mediated by a wooden simulacrum of Sherlock Holmes rather than by Biblical scholars.

Author Len Bailey, who is described as “a professional radio commercial and voiceover actor and bagpipe player,” addresses ten Bible “mysteries” through investigations by Holmes and Watson. The framework of the book involves Holmes's possession of a time machine (the “needle's eye” of the title), apparently developed by Professor Moriarty but pressed into service at the request of an anonymous client who may just be the Lord God Almighty. It enables the detective and the doctor to see Ahithophel's hanging body, the death of Goliath at the hands of the young David, Jesus's resurrection of Lazarus, and the Crucifixion itself, among other Biblical incidents. They do not in fact gather clues or make what could fairly be called an investigation, but they soak in the atmosphere, then return to London to chat things over and quote passages of the King James Bible at one another. One might wish to say that they return to Baker Street, but that is not always the case — at times, for reasons not clearly explained, Holmes has taken up residence instead on a houseboat moored in London's docklands.

At its best, the colloquies between Holmes and Watson rise to the level of, say, Sherlockian literary criticism, as when one of the two cites a passage somewhere in Holy Writ that unexpectedly illuminates a passage elsewhere. (Why did David take, explicitly, five smooth stones from the riverbank, when he knew he would have only one shot at Goliath? Because, we learn in another chapter, Goliath had four brothers.) Very often, the conversation is not at its best. Both men are presented as garrulous, literal-minded, and stunningly inconsistent, ignorant of fairly basic matters while well-informed about obscure details. Holmes is shrill and wild, abusive to Watson and even more vicious to poor Mrs. Hudson. He is presented as an unbeliever or at least a sceptic, in contrast to Watson, who mouths an emotional piety (“What a wonderful Savior we have!”) and more than once breaks down in tears because something he has experienced with Holmes has led him into some sort of doubt.

Each of the ten adventures — although there is precious little adventuring — is divided into multiple sections, and the sections are written from different points of view and in dramatically different styles, almost as though the whole work were a collection of writing exercises. Most of the narrative is written in the third person, sometimes comprehensibly — Watson said, Holmes said — and sometimes in a sort of stream of consciousness perhaps meant to convey the impressions passing before Watson's astonished eyes. Some of the conversation, especially involving Mrs. Hudson, makes no sense at all.

It only remains to note that the text is full of malapropisms, awkward circumlocution, unsuccessful attempts at dialect, and not a few typographical errors. The chapters are followed by fifty pages of study questions.