In the second book of the Heath brothers mystery series, The Brothers of Baker Street, author Michael Robertson fuses past with present, Holmesian cleverness with action-packed adventure, and delivers a delightfully entertaining read.
I must admit, I have a penchant for novels that conjure images of Gothic/Victorian London: mysteries shrouded in a gray fog, a murderer absconding in the pitch of night along cobblestone roads, gas lamps burning outside of unfriendly pubs, and oversized crows hopping through cemeteries, scrounging for their next meals... the darkness of it all is absolutely enthralling. In The Brothers of Baker Street, Robertson deftly creates this creepiness but with an exciting new twist; he intertwines the old with a more modern (1997) London, which breathes contemporary relevance into his story. And what makes it work so well is that he largely avoids (though not entirely) describing London through its most famous tourist attractions. Instead, Robertson takes readers down side streets, through the English countryside, and inside local hangouts for a lively game of snooker. His sense of place is vivid, and at times you can almost smell the sweet cherry tobacco of Holmes's pipe wafting in the rainy night. Robertson writes:
Well on toward three in the morning, a smallish figure in a hooded mac stood at the far end of an isolated dock in the Limehouse district... Standing at the end of the dock and looking out, one could almost see shapes, like small animals, leaping up out of the dark gray river into the light gray fog, darting chaotically about, swirling in cat curves and then vanishing, out of focus, like lost thoughts.
His characters are well developed and engaging, though it is clear from the references to the first book in the series, The Baker Street Letters, that a history has already been established between them. (For example, I detected a bit of passion between the love of Reggie's life, Laura Rankin, and Reggie's brother Nigel, though it's never actually explained in the book. And what exactly happened in Los Angeles that caused Reggie to lose his fortune, his girlfriend, and his professional reputation?) While it piques the reader's curiosity about past events (and the first book), it certainly doesn't prevent The Brothers of Baker Street from being enjoyed on its own merits.
The mysterious, revenge-seeking "descendant" of the fictional Professor James Moriarty - a person who is unable to recognize that Reggie Heath is not Sherlock Holmes - had, in my opinion, the potential to be a much stronger character. The intrigue of someone who can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, especially when they're willing to commit murder, is so compelling, but Robertson doesn't seem to take the character as far as he could have. Honestly, I feel that way about the book as a whole; it was very enjoyable to read, and it is filled with great descriptions, pieces of interesting information (in particular about the training process and reputation of London Black Cab drivers), it is well written... but it simply was not as heavy-hitting as I had wanted it to be. At no point was I absolutely glued to the book, as I was with Julian Barnes's Arthur & George, but I was always happy to pick it up to read a little more. In this way, I would definitely recommend The Brothers of Baker Street to anyone looking for a fun, light and enjoyably English murder mystery.
This review is from the April 20, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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