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Book Review: Bonnie MacBird: Unquiet Spirits

The cover image for Bonnie MacBird's novel Unquiet Spirits: a map of the UK overlaid with a silhouette image of Holmes wearing a top hat and long coat that billows behind him as he walks.

Bonnie MacBird’s versions of Holmes and Watson are back on form in this action-packed sequel to Art in the Blood. The adventure involves spirits in both meanings of the word: ghosts and alcoholic liquids. One alcoholic liquid in particular, to be precise: Scottish whisky.

There are not two but three interconnected cases that take our heroes way out of their London comfort zone. There is a spooky manor house and a dysfunctional family of whisky-makers. There are ghosts (or are there?). There’s a distillery with exactly the kind of health and safety precautions you’d expect in the 19th century. There’s even an appearance from Vidocq, who already showed his obnoxious face in Art in the Blood and is no less obnoxious here. There’s a rough but beautiful landscape. In short, there are all the proper ingredients for an adventure story featuring our favourite detective duo.

I have to say I really enjoyed this one. The plot is well put together and enjoyable to follow while not being too predictable. Personally, I guessed some things, but there were a few twists I didn’t see coming. I probably enjoyed the spookier bits the most because of how atmospheric they were, and without giving too much away I really like how the existence of the supernatural is dealt with and resolved at the end of it all.

The Holmes and Watson relationship is convincing but the book also gives Watson some stuff to investigate by himself: Holmes’ mysterious past. The book goes further into his childhood than a lot of pastiches I’ve read before. Holmes having experienced some trauma in his early years is something that I think lots of Holmes fans have heir own theories about, but it’s not necessarily something that is dealt with explicitly in pastiche very often. The version presented in Unquiet Spirits is a convincing and original twist on a standard Gothic trope.

While the book handles these darker aspects with appropriate seriousness, it isn’t afraid to have a laugh. The book’s completely straight-faced use of “Camford” as Holmes’ alma mater and other such tongue-in-cheek fun with canonical references gave me just as much joy as its deft use of tropes from Victorian sensation literature.

Like Art in the Blood, I think Unquiet Spirits will appeal to everyone who likes Holmes but most especially to people who enjoy the Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. It’s fun and action-focussed with some Gothic overtones and, like the first Downey movie, features one of my favourite tropes: Holmes vs. The Supernatural.

I was thoroughly entertained and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

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