Book Review: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Back-to-Front Murder by Tim Major

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Back-to-Front Murder by Tim Major is a thoughtful homage to the original Sherlock Holmes tales, where the Great Detective and Dr. Watson assist a popular mystery writer whose plots seem to be coming to life.

There’s a brand new conundrum for the iconic duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson when a self-possessed woman comes to 221B Baker Street looking to hire their services as consulting detectives. The fiercely independent Abigail Moone is a successful author of murder mysteries under the pseudonym Damien Collinbourne. Her usual method of dreaming up plots involves finding an interesting passerby and imagining a gruesome death for them before working out the rest of the story—almost in a back-to-front manner.

This has worked well for her prior novels and was exactly what she was up to when she unexpectedly found herself a witness to the death of her chosen “victim,” Ronald Bythewood. She’s somewhat alarmed to think that her machinations—up to and including slipping a capsule into his drinking water to see if it were a viable method of murder—might have actually led to his demise. Even worse happens shortly after when someone steals the notebook in which she’d jotted down her musings on all this. Could there possibly be a sinister figure intent on framing her for murder, and if so, who?

An intrigued Holmes accepts the case even before Inspector Lestrade shows up at 221B with questions of his own.

“Well, then?” Lestrade said to Holmes sharply after coming to a halt in the centre of our rug.

 

Holmes appraised him with a wry expression. “I beg your pardon, Lestrade? I believe it is customary for the person entering another’s home to state their business.”

 

Lestrade’s face fell. “Oh. I had just assumed that you would make some clever comment about my state of mind, or my recent whereabouts. That is usually what you do. It’s most infuriating.”

But Lestrade is there for more than just banter, as he’s investigating Bythewood’s poisoning death as well. He knows something our heroes don’t, however: Bythewood’s body was found clutching a note that would seem to incriminate Abigail as his murderer. It will take every ounce of Holmes and Watson’s powers of discretion and detection to unravel this case, identify Bythewood’s murderer, and bring the culprit to justice.

Holmes fans will be more than satisfied with this well-constructed homage to the great detective. I myself exclaimed aloud, impressed when the major plot point on which Bythewood’s story rests was revealed. Tim Major knows how to write a faithful, intelligent Holmes pastiche while skewing the angle just slightly to make for incisive and often droll commentary for the modern reader, as with the exchange between Holmes and Lestrade quoted above. Even more intriguingly, he examines not only Watson’s discomfited if well-meaning interactions with the progressive women of the era but also our loyal scribe’s motives in publicizing Holmes’ exploits.

It occurred to me that the racing heart of which she spoke might have been a key aspect of her custom of devising crimes. Perhaps the vicarious thrill of enacting a crime—and for the success of this undertaking to hang by a thread—might have fuelled her choice of vocation in the first instance. I confess that, in addition, another thing came to my mind: was the same conclusion, and its implicit criticism, true of my own latter-day career as Holmes’s biographer? Was I equally as morbid as Miss Moone?

Abigail certainly causes a lot of turmoil for the household at 221B, even if Holmes himself remains as aloof and unperturbed as ever. It was actually pretty refreshing to read of Watson’s consternation less at his own intellectual expense than as an exploration of both his role as the great detective’s sidekick and as a Victorian gentleman unprepared to be challenged by a female peer. Mr. Major has knocked it out of the park with this new adventure, retaining the flavor of the original stories while exposing our familiar cast of characters to fresh and intriguing new circumstances.

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