Art in the Blood
By Bonnie MacBird
Reviewed by Ardy
Screenwriter Bonnie MacBird makes her pastiche debut with this fast-paced Victorian adventure.
The story starts off in a few weeks before Christmas 1888, with Holmes in deep depression and the grips of cocaine addiction. Understandable: not only has Watson just got married, he has also been involved with the Ripper case, and not unsuccessfully – except the government wasn’t happy with the truth.
Thankfully, he is rescued first by Watson, and then by a case: a French cabaret singer comes to see him about the disappearance of her illegitimate son by an English Lord. Holmes is also investigating the disappearances of several boys from silk mills in Lancashire owned by that same Lord. As in any murder mystery worth its salt, the cases turn out to be connected, and we’re off.
With all the trappings of a Victorian adventure yarn present and correct, MacBird’s book takes Watson and Holmes from their familiar surroundings of the metropolis to Paris, from thence to Lancashire, and all the way back again to the cosy confines of 221B in the winter.
The characterisations of Holmes and Watson in this are reminiscent of the Cumberbatch and Freeman versions. Holmes’ petulance and addiction problems as well as his urge to keep Watson and therefore the audience in the dark are keynotes just as much as Watson’s exasperation and simultaneous unbreakable loyalty. I also enjoyed the book’s subtle and skilled use of references and tongue-in-cheek nods to classic tropes of the genre – watch out for the appearance of Holmes’ French counterpart in Paris. The book is very strong on atmosphere, especially in the descriptions of the locales involved and a wonderfully colourful cast of side and incidental characters, which really draw the reader into the world of the book. I enjoy Victorian London as much as the next Holmes fan, but there’s always something refreshing about seeing Holmes and Watson outside of what we perceive as their “comfort zone”. The fast-paced plot is well-constructed and keeps readers’ attentions engaged.
There are a few contrived points towards the end and the solution of the mystery didn’t quite ring true for me. I also found there are a few more corpses along the way than I tend to expect in a Holmes story. Then again, some may enjoy a Holmes who’s brought to the edge.
Overall, a solid debut from an author that I hope to see more of. I’d recommend this for those who like their pastiche with a lot of action. If you like the modern screen Holmeses portrayed by Cumberbatch or Downey Jr., particularly if you enjoyed A Game of Shadows, then this is a book for you.
A review copy of the book was kindly provided by the publisher.