Book Review: The Arrival (The Displaced Detective, Book One)

12 Mar

Stephanie Osborn (free sample, Amazon link)

My grandma is probably responsible for my fascination with Sherlock Holmes. It was her, many years ago, who gave me my first copy of the canon stories, the 50-odd short stories and four novels about the world’s greatest detective. Since then, I have devoured many pieces of fan-fiction (even published Holmes novels are technically fan-fiction) and watched movies and TV serials featuring various versions of Sherlock Holmes, from the pipe-smoking original to the so-called ‘high-functioning sociopath’ of Sherlock. However, I have always had a soft spot for the original version of the character.

This isn’t too surprising, I feel. Holmes was a creature of Victorian London, not the modern-day world or a far-future starship. He fitted in there (like Flashman fits into the 1850s) perfectly, while moving him to other locations renders him less plausible as a character. Stephanie Osborn, however, has taken the unexpected step of moving the original Holmes from his world to our present-day world. And, surprisingly, Holmes fits in rather well.

To sum up a long story, a scientist – Skye Chadwick – discovers that alternate worlds are real, including those that only exist in our imaginations. Finding a timeline where Holmes dies in his confrontation with Professor Moriarty (shown in The Final Problem/The Empty House), Skye accidentally brings Holmes back to our world with her. Half of the story is centred around Holmes learning to understand the modern world, which he does with aplomb; the other half is centred around a mystery on the base, a mystery that Holmes can try to solve.

Unsurprisingly, as Watson isn’t included in the trip, the book follows a more standard adventure format than the canon. This is a challenge to any author, as depicting Holmes’s thought processes isn’t easy. However, Osborn does a good job of displaying both how Holmes solves puzzles – even when there are aspects of the modern world that are either beyond his comprehension or out-rightly offensive to his sensibilities – and displaying that her Holmes isn’t that different to the Holmes of canon (where he is largely seen through Watson’s eyes.)

Skye Chadwick herself is an interesting character; smart, opinionated and more than a match, in some ways, for Holmes himself. The dynamics between the two are genuinely interesting; Skye does her best for Holmes, but isn’t afraid to kick him in the ass if necessary. She contrasts quite well with Mary Russell, who (at least in the first two books, the only ones I read) is more Holmes’s pupil than his equal. Of course, Watson wasn’t his equal either, but John Watson was an established person in his own right.

One aspect of the book that will cause issues is the developing romance between Holmes and Skye. Purists to the Holmes canon will assert that Holmes had no interest in women, apart from the ones who bring him interesting cases. More cynical eyes will note that Holmes treated (canon) Irene Adler quite badly; she was acting in self-defence, while he was working for her tormentor. (It is notable that neither Irene nor Holmes express any doubt over Norton’s character; there is no reason to think of him as anything other than the good man she calls him, in her farewell note to Holmes.) And yet, Holmes thought highly of her because she had managed to beat him …

Just how sexual canon Holmes was is debatable. There is nothing resembling a sex scene in any of the canon books, because the mores of the time would have frowned upon it. (And can you seriously imagine staid John Watson writing sex scenes?) People have tended to call him asexual, not without reason, even though he does manage to charm women on several occasions. And yet, Holmes was not the sort of man to be attracted to a pretty face with nothing behind the eyes. Irene caught his attention because she might have been his equal, a woman with the intelligence, coolness and courage that Holmes respected. Would someone who was Irene’s equal, without the problem of a husband or a past history with Holmes, be more attractive to him? It is, at least, probable. I do not believe that anyone can reasonably dispute that Holmes had a heart.

It’s interesting to compare it to All-Consuming Fire, where Holmes and Watson (still in London) encounter the Seventh Doctor and his companions. At first, Holmes is more than a little disoriented when taken out of London midway through the book – the Doctor points out that everything Holmes depends on to do his job is no longer with them – but he gets better, much better, as the story goes along.

Overall, though, if you’re not wedded to canon The Displaced Detective is well worth a read.

One Response to “Book Review: The Arrival (The Displaced Detective, Book One)”

  1. stephanieosborn March 12, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    Wow! Thanks so much, Chris! Awesome review! I’m very pleased you enjoyed the book.

    I haven’t read the Doctor Who/Sherlock Holmes crossover book you reference, so I can’t say how much the respective concepts resemble each other, but I have to think there will be some similarities, just because of the concept. I have read a couple of the Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell) books, but they struck me as leaving Holmes as a more secondary character than protagonist, and I wanted more of Holmes. Excellently written, just not what I wanted. When I couldn’t find what I wanted, I decided to write it.

    Just FYI for your readers, several stories influenced my depiction of “my” Holmes. We have of course the ones you mention, ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ as well as ‘A Scandal in Bohemia;’ but there were a few others as well. One was, without doubt, ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,’ where Watson is shot and Holmes is terrified for a moment that it is a mortal wound — and is prepared to kill the perpetrator in rage and grief if it should be so. It leaves us in no doubt of the Great Detective’s deep affection and love for his dearest friend. Another is ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,’ which “occurred” prior to the Garrideb story, and was printed before it as well. In Devil’s Foot, we see Holmes’ depths of emotion, and also his sense of humor, when just after he and Watson have tested the herbal smudge that was used both to murder and to unhinge the minds of the victims, we have the following exchange:
    “Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”

    “You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”

    He relapsed at once into the half-humorous, half-cynical vein which was his habitual attitude to those about him. “It would be superfluous to drive us mad, my dear Watson,” said he. “A candid observer would certainly declare that we were so already before we embarked upon so wild an experiment…”
    And then there is this, from the same story, which demonstrates that Holmes knows his own depths, at least in some extent:
    “I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done. Who knows?”
    There is also the information I uncovered in my researches for this series, wherein I found that cocaine, while in the system, excites not just the mind, but also the libido; it was one of the first things Sigmund Freud noticed about the drug. However, upon withdrawal, the effects on the neurotransmitter systems, particularly the GABA pathways, is such that there is a boomerang effect, and libido is SUPPRESSED. It also tends to suppress the parts of the brain that tend to allow our minds to wander, which would in turn enable Holmes to focus better. So it is a reasonable conclusion that these effects might be the very reason Holmes chose to use the stuff — the more so, as he expressly only ever used cocaine BETWEEN, and not DURING, his cases.

    So I’d like to think I was reasonably justified in the depiction I chose. I certainly tried very hard to make it hold together logically, at least. If nothing else, I’ve had a great time writing the books.

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