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Book Nook: Ten Years Beyond Baker Street

Why, yes. My copy is getting a bit dog-eared. How can you tell?

Ten Years Beyond Baker Street, by Cay Van Ash

The premise of this story is simple enough: Sherlock Holmes versus Fu Manchu. A pastiche combining Conan Doyle’s famous detective and Sax Rohmer’s famous villain. It’s hard enough to do a pastiche of one author; to do one combining two is spectacularly difficult.

This book manages, more or less, to do so. It is set in early 1914; Sherlock Holmes has retired to keep bees in Sussex and Dr Watson has retired into the medical lecture circuit. Dr Petrie finds that his usual associate, Nayland-Smith, has gone missing and he suspects foul play. Unable to solve the puzzle himself, he manages to lure Holmes out of retirement, and this leads into a pretty well-told adventure romp with sufficiently bizarre incidents to gladden the heart of any fan of either oeuvre.

The structure of the book follows Rohmer's earliest Fu Manchu serials Conan Doyle's Holmes adventures. It has a well-structured and exciting plot featuring two seemingly baffling murder mysteries, a great sequence in a disused mine, a fantastic climax, and best of all, an excellently-written face-off between the Great Detective and the Devil Doctor that is every bit as riveting as Holmes' verbal sparring with Professor Moriarty in Conan Doyle's The Final Problem.

There are some lovely little touches. For example, Holmes goes through his normal deductive reasoning on someone, and concluded that the man pressed a button for a living, but that he had no idea what that button did.

It is first and foremost an adventure tale pairing the two styles and main protagonists, with a number of astute observations, including a remark upon the cultural differences of the 1890s and of the 1910s.

The author goes to great trouble to convince that the world of Sherlock Holmes and the world of Dr Fu Manchu are one and the same. Much of the book is set in south Wales, and the author takes great pains to paint a word picture of the various locales.

It occasionally gets struck by a dose of modern world sensibilities, where period attitudes might seem negative to the modern mind. That’s a feature that all historical fiction has to deal with.

It also manages to weave in references to other Sax Rohmer tales featuring Nayland-Smith and Dr Petrie fairly seamlessly, tying it into the established chronology of that series.

What this book does do is show how the little details of the technology of the period can be used to create a sense of atmosphere, develop the plot, instil a sense of wonder, and inform about the period in question.

It’s an enjoyable little tale.

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David Flin is editor of the anthology Ten Years Later, where all proceeds go to help rebuild Ukraine, the author of the AH series Building Jerusalem and Six East End Boys, and the owner of Sergeant Frosty Publications.


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