Sherlock Holmes on the Wild Frontier by Magda Jozsa

Review by Chris Redmond

Imagine a comic movie set in the American west of the 1890s. It will have the dude, the hermit, the cowpoke, the dance-hall girl, the plucky young wife, the moonshiners, the stagecoach holdup, the Injun raid, and all the other predictable characters and situations. Now imagine the novelization of that movie, a superficial sequence of clichés and incidents that will be just as entertaining as the author's skill with words and details can make it, but no more so.

Next, imagine that the narrator of this tale calls himself Dr. Watson and says the man whom he accompanies in a bizarre trip across the American west is Sherlock Holmes. There you have Magda Jozsa's self-published Sherlock Holmes on the Wild Frontier. Unfortunately the evidence for the identities of Holmes and Watson is thin indeed. The narrator writes in short sentences rather than Watson's familiar and elegant periods, and uses many colloquialisms that do not ring true. The detective makes few references to London, his experience of crime, or the erudite subjects on which he is known to be an expert, but demonstrates a hitherto unsuspected skill at horsemanship and woodcraft.

In short, it would appear that the author has borrowed the names of Watson and Holmes in the hope that their presence, and particularly Holmes's name in the title of the book, will attract readers. The narrative, most of it set in Colorado, might or might not otherwise appeal; there is nothing very original about it, but parts of it are modestly amusing. What it is not, certainly, is Sherlockian; the hero identified as Sherlock Holmes might as well be Natty Bumppo or Rooster Cogburn or Tom Mix. Closer to home, he might be Gustav Amlingmeyer of Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range novels, which are altogether more successful as mashups of Sherlockian mystery and western picaresque. Jozsa was not influenced by Hockesmith, however, since the first of the latter's books was published a year after Wild Frontier.

It is only fair to say that the first and last few pages of this book, which are set in Britain, explain the American trip and demonstrate its successful conclusion. Unfortunately the author seems to have done little research about the England of the later Victorian era, imagining equestrian messengers in Baker Street, and Sheffield — Sheffield! — as a country village set amid green fields. As for the conclusion, at a country "castle" located convenient to the same metropolis, the slapstick elements continue, and Holmes remains the man of abrupt action rather than the observer and thinker of Baker Street.

Like pretty much every pastiche of recent years, Wild Frontier provides a potential love interest through which the hitherto unsuspected emotional depths of Sherlock Holmes are revealed. Josza handles this aspect of her duties without melodramatic extremes. She also writes competently (there are some grammatical errors, but far fewer than many authors get away with) and keeps her narrative moving — a skill of which Watson himself would certainly approve.