Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Globe Murders by Barry Day

Review by Chris Redmond

Annoying things that authors love to put into novel-length pastiches:

  • Queen Victoria
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Major character death
  • Neatly packaged companies of professional actors, one of whom is not what he (or she) seems

Barry Day works all of these hot buttons into Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Globe Murders, and still manages to have a competent and more or less readable pastiche. And it is unarguably a pastiche, with a setting in 1899, Watson as the narrator, and language that is formal and grammatically correct, if not quite as ornate as the good doctor's usual diction.

The “Shakespeare Globe” is a reconstruction of the legendary Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames just above London Bridge. The original Globe, where many of Shakespeare's plays were first presented, stood from 1599 to 1613. A modern reconstruction of the Globe opened in 1997, the year this novel was published, and is a significant tourist attraction in London. For the purposes of this novel, Day imagines the reconstruction rising in 1899 rather than 1997, and the struggles he imagines impresario Florenz Adler enduring are no doubt modelled on the real-life difficulties faced by American actor-director Sam Wanamaker between 1970 and the eventual opening of the new Globe.

Holmes is drawn into the matter in the days before the scheduled gala opening of the new theatre: someone is sending odd warnings, based on snatches of Shakespearean quotations, and there is fear (cue Mycroft Holmes here) that the menace extends to Queen Victoria, who will be attending the premiere performance. What follows is about what might be expected: suspicion among the actors, an excursion into theatre history, mystification on Holmes's part, an interview with Freud in which he attempts to explain abnormal psychology, researches into someone's American past, a dramatic scene on the stage of the almost-completed Globe, and a still more dramatic scene in the Queen's presence during the first performance.

It is to Day's credit that despite some eye-rolling clichés he manages to make the story readable, indeed enjoyable, to a Sherlockian reader. This novel is not in the first rank among pastiches, but it is better than so, so much that has been published in the years since its appearance.