In 2013 Sam Siciliano published ‘The Grimswell Curse’ a precursor, as it turns out to his ‘The White’. The relationship between these two novels is rather like the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. There are some differences, but the story lines are also remarkably similar in various respects. In both novels we have a Damsel in distress who needs to be rescued from a rapacious relative, an overbearing aunt of sorts, that wants the girl’s fortune and house etc. The root cause of the problem is in part in both novels ‘the entail’ which regularly left women in the lurch and allowed only men to inherit. Hence, the ‘he married her for her money’ cry was hardly rife in the Victorian era, but in these two tales, things are not as per usual. In this novel again we have Sherlock, and Drs. Henry and Michelle Vernier on the case, and this time going to another God forsaken landscape in boonies— in this case in Dartmoor, famous for the Hound of the Baskersville tale. This novel has no faux Druids in it and no conger eels, instead like in the Baskerville tale it has a monstrous hound, which keeps ripping people’s throats out. But to whom does it belong? And is there really a Grimswell curse? Holmes of course is agnostic about God, and more that dubious about demons and curses and the Devil himself, called ‘Old Scratch’ in this novel (the very term my great uncle from Mississippi used to use). This novel also shares with the White Worm mystery good atmospheric qualities, and it is long on description. and perhaps a little better on plot than the later novel. It is also long on the Harlequin romance factor, in a sort of Victorian vein. One of the better features in this novel however is that it is not so predictable as the other one. There is some misdirect in this novel, and you are left guessing who the ultimate villain is in the tale. One also gets a strong feel for how very alone Victorians who lived in cavernous ancient houses with very few friends or relatives there with them must have felt. As King Arthur once asked ‘What do the simple folk do’ without TV, internet, cell phones, video games, technology of any real sort, modern medicine, and so on. As it turns out, while they could certainly get lonely, they were not like spoiled moderns who complain about boredom all the time. As Holmes would say— ‘boredom is the state of mind for those who lack imagination’. Just so.
I enjoyed this novel, which is a bit shorter than the other one, and a bit less predictable, and so I’ll give it a high B rating. There is murder most foul, damsels in distress, romance and greed, a garish Victorian setting, and of course the deductive powers of Holmes. What more could one want?