Book Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg
By Amber KellerJune 18, 2019
The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth is the third book in the critically acclaimed Daughter of Sherlock Holmes mystery series, where Joanna Holmes faces a new unsolvable mystery that includes spies and a threat to the crown.
The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg is a wonderful tale that is splendidly done in the classic Sherlock style. Joanna Watson, daughter of the famed Sherlock Holmes, along with her father-in-law, Dr. Watson, and her husband, Watson’s son, receive a late night visit from Dr. Alexander Verner. Verner is an esteemed friend of Dr. Watson and is seeking their help with a strange occurrence. He believes a man has been kidnapped by German spies.
Thick in the middle of World War I, the Germans are seeking information and have taken one of Britain’s top cryptographers, Alistair Ainsworth. After Ainsworth feigns illness, the good Dr. Verner is called upon. Ainsworth secretly asks for help, and Joanna and her team find themselves racing to find him before tragedy befalls.
Along with the Scotland Yard, Joanna and the Watsons must save Ainsworth before he is broken and gives up important state secrets. If he tells the Germans how to decode their messages, it might mean the cost of the war.
The familiar 221B Baker Street is still where the trio convene. It’s a bit surreal to watch Joanna suss out clues and smoke her Turkish cigarettes. Her wit and clever skills of deduction are right up there with her father’s, and her son, Johnny, seems to have gained the family gifts as well.
The style of writing is a wonderful match to the original tales, invoking nostalgia for the original duo yet leaving me more than satisfied watching Joanna and the now older Dr. Watson work together. I also enjoy that Dr. Watson’s son, Joanna’s husband, is the narrator. We are allowed to see Joanna from an outside point of view, witnessing his adoration of her as well as the sweet callbacks from Dr. Watson to his lost friend. Goldberg does a splendid job of keeping the feeling and language of the time and original stories.
“What is it you see?” My father asked.
“Cover,” Joanna replied.
“From what, pray tell?”
“From every crime you wish to mention,” Joanna said, turning to us. “Which is also the answer to your first question. The obvious reason my father believed such weather favored the perpetrator is straightforward. It removes or distorts virtually ever clue and track left behind. Give it a moment’s thought and you can readily list the ways foul weather can throw the detective off.”
There are plenty of references to her father’s way of thinking and his methods throughout the novel. It is clear that she has learned much from him and developed his natural abilities. However, she has enough of her own ways to keep herself at least somewhat separate from the famed detective.
Joanna is an intriguing main character in her lineage alone, but watching her figure out the mystery is also a treat. She keeps her cool during even the most stressful of events, pointing out things unthought of or overlooked. She is also a loving and warm mother to her son, showing him how she comes to conclusions. She’s a very likable character and holds her own with ease.
After dressing quickly, I entered our parlor and was greeted by a dense haze of cigarette smoke, through which Joanna was pacing back and forth. She rarely smoked except when involved in a difficult case, at which time she could easily consume two packs of cigarettes daily. And like her esteemed father before her, she could go sleepless for days until the problem was solved or she determined more data was needed before a solution could be reached. My father, attired in a maroon smoking jacket, was seated in a cushioned chair and puffing on his favorite cherrywood pipe, all the while watching Joanna pace.
“It appears my wife has a three-pipe problem before her,” I remarked, referring to Sherlock Holmes’s description of a perplexing case that required at least three pipes to bring to a successful conclusion.
Some of my favorite characters are the street urchins that are employed to help find the house where the Germans are keeping Ainsworth. Originally known as the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock had employed them to help out at times. These youngsters are able to blend into the background and be unnoticed while they watch everything with uncanny precision. The gang has changed since Sherlock’s death, but their leader, Wiggins, has remained along with new members. Their resourcefulness is unmatched, and their street smarts are their strength. Utilizing different outfits—even going so far as to change colored coats as they walked to and fro so as not to be recognized—they gain important information and are crucial in helping Joanna with the case.
If you’re looking to scratch that Sherlock itch—and have fun doing it—this is the series for you. Goldberg delivers a well-written and satisfying mystery that that incorporates the rich setting and appropriate language of Conan Doyle’s original series. Having a new family member to carry on Sherlock Holmes’s talents is a treat.