The Thinking Engine
By James Lovegrove
Reviewed by Ardy
James Lovegrove was last seen on this blog about a year ago when I reviewed Gods of War, a lovely retirement pastiche set in Eastbourne. The Thinking Engine takes place earlier in Holmes’ career, during the case of the Three Students in 1895, to be exact, and pits Holmes against – you guessed it – a thinking engine. It’s a proper steampunk plot – or is it? It’s certainly off to a very eerie start.
We find Watson and Holmes in Oxford, where the eccentric Professor Quantock has built a thinking engine capable – so he boasts – of solving any crime, and designed expressly to show up Sherlock Holmes’ limited capabilities. With certain members of the press only waiting for an opportunity to discredit Holmes, and a string of criminal investigations testing Holmes’ mettle to the utmost, the stakes are raised over the course of the story that leads to a final confrontation between man and machine.
I found this an enjoyable read. The twist at the end fit with the genre and general tone of the book. The world of 19th century academia with its snobbery, petty conflicts and student pranks is brought to life vividly. I especially enjoyed seeing Watson as a competent doctor in this. Whether he’s trying to save the life of a gunshot victim or helping Holmes detox, he clearly knows what he’s doing. The storytelling is fairly open for a Sherlock Holmes story, complete with a cipher that you can solve along with Holmes and Watson if you’re so inclined.
I have to say that Holmes is brought very low in this, which may not be to everyone’s liking. Also, I found the twist quite telegraphed, though there were some aspects of it that I didn’t guess. Despite these weaknesses, it stands up well to Lovegrove’s other books and is a welcome addition to my ever-growing pastiche collection.
A review copy was kindly provided by Titan Books, Lovegrove’s publisher in the UK. The book will be released August 25, 2015, and you can buy it at any good bookshop or from Amazon UK or Amazon US.
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