I have a lot of access to a lot of books, so the pile of books on my to-read window sill grows at an alarming rate.
There are some books that have been there for ages waiting to catch my attention at the right moment (like The Passage by Justin Cronin) – these will be read, it’s just about when,. Then there are others which will barely have a chance to gather dust before being swept off the pile to be read.
Finally there are those in the middle which have intrigued me enough to make it onto the pile, but then fill me with dread when I look at them because I know they’re probably going to be awful.
The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby was one of the latter – a book that features the famous door of 221b Baker Street and proudly boasts
BEHIND EVERY GREAT DETECTIVE, STANDS A GREAT WOMAN…
This is a book told from the point of view of Mrs Martha Hudson, widow, landlady and housekeeper to Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes is a story that has been told a million different ways from a million different points of view, all of them a slight variation on a theme, and all of them have happened in just the past year.
I feared we may be at peak Sherlock, so it was with some trepidation I sat down to read.
Before I go any further, I must admit, I’ve never actually read any of the original Conan Doyle stories. Everything I know about Sherlock Holmes comes from the adaptations, most recently, and obviously, the Cumberbatch/Freeman series.
It was these two, along with Una Stubbs and Amanda Abbington that I had in mind when I began to read, and I was immediately hit with a strange sensation.
Either both this book and the television series are extremely faithful to the original books, or Birkby wrote this while binge-watching the BBC series (possibly a few times, since there aren’t many episodes, and it takes more than a weekend to knock out a book).
Regardless, the tone of voice is so similar to the TV series it feels like the characters in the book walked off the set – and that’s no bad thing. What it does is bring the characters to life, instantly, without any jarring misalignments to other established versions of the character.
The investigation itself is typically Victorian, it takes full advantage of the setting and culture, thus setting itself apart from it’s televisual counterpart. I thought about bringing it into the modern day, and while it would be possible, there would need to be some significant adaptations.
A woman is being blackmailed for improper behaviour, except the blackmailer seems to want nothing in return. He is threatening to destroy this woman’s life, for no reason at all. Laura Shirley seeks out Holmes to help, but he sends her away, apparently not interested in the case.
In typical arrogant style it was a game, Holmes fully expecting her to return at a later point, finally willing to tell him everything. What he hasn’t bargained on, however is Mrs Hudson’s sympathetic ear. Together with Mary Watson, Mrs Hudson takes on the case herself, nearly biting off more than she can chew.
Ultimately, however – and this is no spoiler – the book ends with Holmes intrigued by Hudson, suddenly seeing her in a new light.
And so am I.
I am now desperate for Steven Moffat do a special, Holmes-lite episode and push Stubbs and Abbington to the forefront, and I would be more than happy to see Michelle Birkby write it.
This a great book, and I would definitely recommend – 3.7 out of 5 – it’s let down slightly by not quite eliciting enough feeling for the victims, but still very good.