Given my last Holmes review, this felt like a fitting book for my next read. This has definitely been a good week for Boucher in terms of writer exposure, as not only has Ben at The Green Capsule reviewed his novel The Case of the Solid Key, but the Puzzle Doctor has also written a post on Nine Times Nine. Quite impressed that we all hadn’t gone for the same book.
This story has a Hollywood studio backdrop as Metropolis Pictures is planning on producing an adaptation of The Adventure of the Speckled Band. Yet even before the script has been completed there are problems; namely that many members of the Baker Street Irregulars are up in arms about the choice of the screen writer, Stephen Worth, a hard boiled mystery writer who loathes Holmes and their club. But unfortunately producer, F X Weinberg cannot fire him as in his contract it is stipulated that only he can write this script. Worth is also highly unpopular with other members of the studio, including Maureen O’Breen, (sister of Fergus, the private eye in some of Boucher’s other novels), who is part of the publicity team. A character nails it when they say that wanting to physically assault or murder Worth is a reflex reaction to meeting him. To spike his guns a little and to appease the Irregulars, 5 members are invited to come to the studios and advise on the production. It is at the reception party for these five, who have been located in a house renamed as 221B, that Worth makes an ugly scene, assaulting Maureen and the newly appointed housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, as well as making unpleasant accusations about the producer and the Irregulars. Knocked out he is taken to one of the rooms and of course we all know what has happened when a car is later heard backfiring… Or do we? The Irregulars are happily pleased with the situation mainly because of the opportunity it gives them for some real life sleuthing, but do they know what they’ve let themselves in for? Boucher includes a plethora of different text types from memos to letters, as well as indulging in a myriad of Holmes allusions – dancing men messages, orange pips, Rache written in blood and so soooo much more.
The first half of this book is the strongest in my opinion. Boucher captures the milieu of an intense body of people passionately wishing to protect their favourite literary character brilliantly and as a keen GAD fan it was easy for me to identify with them, given the mangling some of my favourite characters and stories have received over the years. Boucher also gives us the perfect victim who even the reader will want to run over after 30 seconds of being in his presence. The opening pages which reveal the cast of characters were sheer pleasure to read, with some great deft touches of humour. The pacing is strong and Boucher does give us one heck of an intriguing murder setup
So where does it all go wrong? Well wrong is probably putting it a bit strongly, but unfortunately I think Boucher loses control of his plot, which is unusual for him, given how tight he usually works. It is perhaps an investigation which sinks beneath the allusions to Holmes. A permanent suspension of disbelief is certainly required. This could have been coped with or not even bothersome if the pacing didn’t rapidly go downhill. Boucher’s decision to include a series of chapters where each Irregular gives “a narrative” is an interesting idea but unfortunately it made the story become increasingly dull and hard to read, as these Irregulars are long winded to say the least. The plot’s energy dissipates at his point and struggles to restore itself afterwards. Perhaps it was a bit too hard to have 5 Irregulars, Maureen and 3 different policemen trying to solve the mystery. A case of too many cooks or rather sleuths? I think it all got a bit too unwieldly to fully manage. There is one aspect of the solution that the reader will grasp a lot sooner than the sleuths, but for the rest I think it is pretty hard for the reader to identify the culprit.
So a book with a lot of interesting premises but the execution of the second half marred its finish. The solution is good but becomes less satisfying in some respects due to how it is delivered. If you love all things Sherlock Holmes this would be worthwhile read, as despite the pacing issues there are a lot of fun moments in this story around this archetypal sleuth and his adventures.