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Sunday 9 April 2017

‘To a Country House Darkly and Other New Adventures’ by N.M. Scott

Published by The Book Guild,
28 February 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-911320-21-0

To a Country House Darkly is a collection of short stories that are based on the characters introduced in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and, like the original stories, they are narrated by Dr Watson. The stories are set towards the end of the Victorian era and range from the dark and sinister and the violent and melodramatic to the gentler and more humorous. My personal preference is for the last category, especially The Church Conundrum, in which Holmes aides a bemused clergyman who is being haunted by a singing nun.

All of the stories are clearly well researched, the period details are accurate and they introduce, as integral factors in the plots, interests and discoveries that were common at that time.

Several of the tales develop the lives of Conan Doyle’s subsidiary characters, such as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, whose ‘love of port cigars and fine wines, his epicurean tastes, had finally got the better of him. He reminded me at best of a giant species of inflatable slug, grossly overweight and confined to a reinforced wheelchair for much of the time.’ Wiggins, the leaders of the Baker Street Irregulars, fares better in the final short story in this collection. He was adopted by a clergyman and his wife and is now a cadet officer at Sandhurst, and is the image of the middle-class, conventional, young Victorian.

These are the first pastiches of Sherlock Holmes that I have read, although I am familiar with the original, Conan Doyle short stories. I found the stories well-crafted and interesting and full of period detail. However I did not find the depiction of Holmes convincing. These stories portrayed a mellower, more sociable Holmes, willing to engage with gossipy women on trains and with little of the acid wit, impish humour, impatience and individuality of Conan Doyle’s Holmes. This results in the relationship with Watson being far calmer, considerate and more harmonious than that which Conan Doyle portrayed.

To a Country House Darkly is a collection of well-crafted and pleasant short stories set in the late 19th Century, and is an enjoyable read.
Reviewer: by Carol Westron

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

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