As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Published by Pan Books, 2 February 2017. ISBN: 978-1-5098–0973-8
In this, the second Mrs Hudson (Sherlock Holmes’s
housekeeper) and Mary Watson (wife to Holmes’s companion Dr John Watson) investigation,
Martha Hudson is abruptly taken into hospital with a sudden illness which turns
out to be an obstruction in the bowel, not a life-threatening tumour but painful
and requiring an immediate operation. Thanks to her friendship with Mary and
John Watson, Martha finds herself in a private ward in St Bartholomew’s
Hospital with six other female patients. Martha wakes during the night and
thinks she sees someone slip into the ward and smother one of the patients. In
her drug-induced stupor she thinks the someone is Death and dares not move. And
in the morning someone has indeed died but for the moment Martha thinks the
vision of Death resulted from the anaesthetics she had been given. Bored at the
prospect of several weeks of enforced idleness in hospital, Martha begins to
observe her five fellow-patients while at the same time not admitting that she
is housekeeper to the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes and her friend Mary is
the wife of Holmes’s friend and fellow-investigator Dr Watson. Then a second
patient dies: the Catholic Sarah Malone who had been delirious and on the verge
of death for some time. In her last minutes she had been consoled by another patient, the fellow-Catholic
enigmatic Miranda Logan to whom Sarah had murmured her last confession.
Miranda, saying that she is bound by the seal of the confessional, refuses to
say what Sarah’s sins were. Sarah’s death is undoubtedly natural but when a
third death occurs Martha, again waking from heavy sleep, thinks that Death has
come again, this time for the aged Emma Fordham. Emma had been a great beauty
and had had many lovers but had never married and has kept all the secrets of
her past. Now she is indeed dead and her bed empty. And Dr Watson has arranged
for an early discharge for Martha and she, desperate to get back home, gladly
bids farewell to the remaining three patients.
home, she finds that Mary is now thoroughly engrossed in a mystery with which
Holmes has entrusted her. The mystery is that of the numerous missing street
boys whose disappearance is unaccounted for. At the same time London’s streets
are being haunted by the mysterious Pale Boys; many people, including the Baker
Street Irregulars with the exception of their leader, the ever-sceptical
Wiggins, think they are ghosts . . . but are they? And is there a link with the
women in Martha’s ward some of whom have had sons who have disappeared? There
are mysteries to be solved by the always-resourceful Martha and Mary. A further
complication is the continuing story of what happened in the dramatic
conclusion of the previous story in the series, The House at Baker Street (also reviewed in Mystery People); Inspector Lestrade is doggedly pursuing his
enquiries which causes Martha much turmoil.
apart from that continuing storyline, many of the characters in the previous
story, some taken from the original Holmes stories, others created by the
author, reappear in this one. It would probably be advisable for readers to
begin with that story and then to go on to the next one. That said, this is equally
enjoyable, both of them being well described by a reviewer as ‘a witty feminist
take on the crime classic’. Recommended.
‘The House at Baker Street’ by Michelle Birkby
Published by Pan Books, 25 February 2016. ISBN:
Behind every great
detective, they say, stands a great woman. But now . . .
over, Sherlock, the Sisters are Doing It for Themselves
this case, the sisters are Mrs Martha Hudson, the long-standing landlady of 221B
Baker Street and housekeeper to the great detective Sherlock Holmes, and Mary
Watson, the wife of Dr John Watson, Holmes’s friend, fellow-lodger and fellow-investigator.
At a meeting in Chiswick Library in October 2016 the author described how she
came to begin the series of which this book is the first. Since childhood she
had been a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, had read them all, and had
seen all the adaptations for film and TV especially the iconic series with
Jeremy Brett as Holmes. But over the years she became aware of the crucial part
played in some of the investigations by Mrs Hudson, and also noted Holmes’s
scornful attitude towards women, thinking them weak, over-emotional, hysterical
and guilty of dragging a man’s attention away from cool logic, although he did
allow that a few could be strong, intelligent, and independent. So she felt
that it was time the Holmes women could, and should, do it for themselves. She
gave Mrs Hudson a past: she is a widow whose beloved husband died after only 6
months of marriage and whose posthumous son died at the age of 7.
and Mary are now firm friends and spend much time together in the kitchen
where, unknown to Holmes and Watson, they listen via a vent in the kitchen
ceiling to the conversations between Holmes and Watson and on occasion with
Holmes’s clients. One of these is a young woman who is such a ‘shrinking
violet’ that all she can bear to tell him is that she is being blackmailed but
cannot bring herself to say what about and whether there is any evidence.
Annoyed, Holmes sends her away but Mrs Watson and Mary intercept her and, with
the aid of cups of tea, cake and much sympathy, the young woman, Mrs Laura Shirley,
reveals that she has been sent several letters accusing her of gross misconduct,
unfortunately so disgusting that she has destroyed them. Laura is completely
innocent of such behaviour but she is afraid that her husband will believe
them. Without the letters there is little that Mary and Martha can do but they
persuade Laura, if she has any more, to let them have them. Another letter comes
and the allegations are indeed disgusting although there is no demand for money
or any sort of favours, simply to broadcast them to all and sundry. So Mary and
Martha decide to act, but they need assistance, not from Holmes and Watson who
would surely try and prevent them but from the Baker Street Irregulars, the
gang of street urchins who already act, in their own way, for Holmes. Wiggins
is the streetwise leader of the gang, Billy who can read and is already a
page-boy in the Baker Street establishment, and later on there is the sharp,
knowing Micky. Martha and Mary soon establish that frightened, timid Laura is
not the only victim of the blackmailer, there are many others some of whom have
been driven by his menaces to commit suicide. Their search leads them to
Whitechapel, London’s most notorious and dangerous slum, and also to the homes
of the rich and influential. At the same time, it becomes clear that the
blackmailer is now turning to violence, and then to murder . . . Martha and
Mary must identify him or more lives will be lost.
book is thoroughly enjoyable with lively characters and a fast-moving plot.
Martha and Mary may not have all Holmes’s cerebral deductive abilities but they
are able to empathise with the victims and eventually, well before the days of
forensic psychiatry, to understand the motives of the murderer and to identify
him. Very much recommended.
has always loved crime stories, and read her first Sherlock Holmes book when
she was thirteen. She was given a beautiful collection of all the short stories
and has been hooked with the wonderful, gas-lit, atmospheric world of crime and
adventure ever since. A few years ago Michelle was re-reading The Empty
House and a blurred figure in the background suddenly came into focus. It
became clear to her that Mrs Hudson was much more than a housekeeper to 221b
and she'd always been fascinated by Mary Watson's character. So she set about
giving the women of Baker Street a voice and adventures of their own . . . The
House at Baker Street is the first book in the exciting Mrs Hudson and Mary
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.