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Review: Sherlock Holmes in Cape May

I've read a number of Sherlock Holmes pastiches over the years---with my collection nearing100 books now---but I'm always eager for a new one. I was particularly looking forward to Steve Leadley's Sherlock Holmes in Cape May, featuring a murdered, well-meaning Quaker. Given that I grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Quaker schools until college, this story seemed like my perfect pastiche.

Sadly, Leadley's work falls short. The upside is that this is by no means a long story, just eighty-some pages in rather large type, so you lose almost nothing by taking an hour or two out of your day to give it a try. Leadley manages the Holmes characters well, with Watson appropriately interested in aesthetics, comforts, and creating a rapport with the reader. Holmes, meanwhile, is his enigmatic (but never deliberately cruel) self. I even became quite interested in the character of Dr. Emlen Physick, whose endless enjoyment at Holmes' antics were a fresh change of pace.

However, this Holmes is perhaps a little too well characterized. No main-stream published SH story is complete without a good mystery (obviously not a requirement for fics) and Holmes' detachment from the others results in a detachment from Watson in particular---and therefore us as well. Though there are one or two clues at the initial crime scene, from then on Holmes insists that he do everything himself. No, you can't come because I move too quickly. No, I need to act in this instance and "I’m afraid that your presence would be too conspicuous.” The result is less mystery and more Watson wandering around Cape May, giving Leadley the chance to make use of his vast historical knowledge. The reader is given few threads to follow and no chance of at least guessing the culprit, considering that there are no suspects until the case is already solved. I couldn't help but feel like I was reading an episode of BBC Sherlock, where we're not a partner to Holmes' work, but rather a slave to his supposed genius. This isn't a mystery you can try to follow, it's sixty pages of going along for the ride until Holmes decides to explain everything at the end. Though many of the canonical stories are also guilty of this, Leadley (and others') work takes it to an extreme.

All of which doesn't even touch on the shoe-horning in of another famous historical figure, which adds nothing to the plot or the reading experience. This is another aspect of SH pastiches that I think is overused----including Dracula, Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, and other well-known characters for the sake of curiosity or shock value. Though these crossovers are often fun (and The Angel of the Opera remains a favorite of mine) I'm generally of the opinion that Holmes and Watson should be able to stand on their own.

Still, an enjoyable read if you like all things Holmes or are particularly fond of historical Cape May. You can pick up a copy here if it peaks your interest.

Overall: 5/10

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Dr. Physick:

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