Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Horror!

It is March 1895 in London and Sherlock Holmes receives a strange visitor at 221B Baker Street. It is a peculiar, arrogant Irishman named George Shaw and he comes to consult Holmes about the murder of theatre critic Jonathan McCarthy. Holmes and Watson accept the case and begin to dig around McCarthy’s personal life, discovering that the man was universally despised in the West End. During their investigations, they run across all sorts of potential suspects, including Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Sir Arthur Sullivan.

But if only the case had ended there – when another murder occurs, Holmes and Watson discover something absolutely horrendous is at the centre of this case, a secret so black it could unravel the very fabric of British society. In fact, that’s why Watson decided to entitle this case The West End Horror. After being lost to the world for years, it fell into the hands of Nicholas Meyer, who had also edited Watson’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It is unfortunate, then, that this was such a sub-par outing for both Holmes and Watson.

I highly enjoyed Meyer’s first contribution to Sherlockiana, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in which he drastically revised the Canon and played all sorts of games with historical figures, especially Sigmund Freud. It was interesting, it was something different, it was fresh. Unfortunately, the same adjectives cannot be applied to The West End Horror: it’s a conventional pastiche, and that’s that. It’s no better and no worse than dozens of other pastiches of its kind. Actually, now that I think of it, it might even be a bit on the worse side.

You see, it boils down to this: Holmes and Watson are idiots. This was a weakness in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, but because of the book’s other delights as a pastiche, I was able to ignore it. I have no idea if he’s doing it deliberately or not, but it would seem that Nicholas Meyer is simply unable of springing a surprise ending on the reader. Long before Holmes tumbles to the solution, it’s screaming you in the face, especially after the mysterious actions of a police coroner are brought into the plot. They’re really not all that mysterious, in fact it’s rather obvious what the motivation behind these actions was. Not only that, Holmes wastes a lot of time on really obvious red herrings. Simply put, it’s remarkable how much time it took Holmes to figure it out. This case is certainly not among his finest hours.

Although historical figures pop up in The West End Horror, their appearances seem a lot more perfunctory this time around. Half the time we get heavy-handed irony from the author about events that will occur in the near future, such as Oscar Wilde’s infamous tiff with the law, or Sullivan’s death, or Bram Stoker’s authorial efforts. It even steals words attributed to Winston Churchill at one point, adding in a footnote that this dialogue has been “misattributed” to him and it was really Holmes who spoke those words. It’s not as charming or as fun as it all was with Freud, and it doesn’t really add anything new to the Canon.

Overall, I wish I could show more enthusiasm for this book, but I just didn’t enjoy myself like I’d hoped. After the high points of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, I was expecting something more inventive, more lively, and more original than this book. At the end of the day this is a safe, conventional pastiche that risks nothing and adds nothing notable to the Canon. I can with clear conscience recommend skipping this one.

2 comments:

  1. What a shame - I've been meaning to read this one but had heard that it was't as good. I did enjoy Meyer's filmworks, especially TIME AFTER TIME in which HG Wells meets Jack the Ripper in 1970s San Francisco, and the even numbered STAR TREK titles, but tight plotting has never been his forte.

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    1. "tight plotting has never been his forte."

      Well, that's a shame, and it doesn't seem to bode well for the third novel in the series, THE CANARY TRAINER. I was prepared to accept that Meyer's other Holmesian works wouldn't be as good as THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION, but all the things I enjoyed so much about that book are gone, leaving all the things I found weak about *that* book. Meyer will always have my respect for his first Holmesian pastiche, but it's quite simply a tough act to follow.

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