The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes– The White Worm

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I must say at the outset that I am very very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes stories by someone other than the originator, Conan Doyle. I mean I have the fully annotated Baring-Gould edition of all the original stories as they appeared in the Strand with the original pictures. There have been some good further adventure stories, including the recent film Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen as the old Holmes in retirement trying to solve one unresolved case whilst tending to his bees. That was well done.

The novel I just finished by Sam Siciliano (an American who resides in Vancouver, Washington where they know something about Yorkshire like mists and cold and rain) is not bad at all, but also not great. The strength of this novel, which is set near Whitby, a coastal town on the North Sea in Yorkshire has the atmosphere right, and by atmosphere I mean the mood and temper of that late Victorian era and ethos. Siciliano has good powers of description, and he knows how to set the scene. So far so good. Secondly, his characterization of Sherlock is pretty good, not always spot on, but nonetheless it passes muster. The characterization of some of the other central figures in the story, especially that of Adam Shelton the giant of a man who has the fears of a mouse, and no self confidence to speak of, goes awry sadly. Diana Marsh is not much better, and there is a lot of whimpering and weeping going on, which makes Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights seem like sensible and rational Victorian fiction by comparison. In regard to plot, Siciliano has to keep pushing off the ‘reveal’ and the resolution of the story line again and again to try and further add to the suspense of the tale. Sometimes this is justified and sometimes it becomes rather obviously tedious, and one wants to say to Holmes— “Just tell us what is happening, or get on with it!”

As for Holmes’ companion in these novels, his relative Dr. Henry Vernier, and his very able wife Michelle who is an even better doctor, they are alright, and in fact they have their noble moments in this novel, but they are not replacements for Watson, the truest and best companion and friend he ever had, the Sam to Holmes’ Frodo.

There are some good and intriguing features to the novel— Druids no less, bizzare animals of various sorts, insane local gentry, and naturalists who seem far from natural. Siciliano has the Victorian interest in the macabre correctly depicted. I was a bit disappointed that no one had a Yorkshire accent or dialect in this novel (see e.g. various character in Heriot’s All Creatures Great and Small), but this is a minor complaint. Underlying and undergirding the whole tale were the absurd inheritance laws of that period in England, which disenfranchised women with regularity. But that is a story for another day. I can give this novel a low B, but that is a high grade compared to some Conan Doyle imitators. If you want to see a much more plausibly suspensful Holmes novel of the modern era, try the Seven Percent Solution (1974) by Nicolas Meyer.

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