Dare I say that Nicholas Meyer writes Sherlock Holmes better than Doyle did? Of course, given how much Doyle came to hate his creation, he probably wouldn't begrudge me the opinion too much. At least I hope not. I'm far too stressed and tired to deal with a haunting right now.
Still, it's a massive shame that Meyer has only given us three Holmes pastiches because I really am greedy like that. After devouring The Seven-Per-Cent Solution years ago I deliberately held off on The West End Horror because I knew I'd need a palate cleanser after getting through a number of mediocre mysteries. Now that I've read it I want a small dose of amnesia so that I can go read it again. Scholars and fans alike have always cited Doyle's short story structure as one of the primary factors that helped to highlight the best of what the Holmes stories have to offer, and they're absolutely right, but Meyer has perfected that same formula for the novella in a way that Doyle never quite achieved with A Study in Scarlet or The Valley of Fear.
Descriptive without dragging on, focused on the case while still leaving time for side adventures, The West End Horror is the perfect balance between what a Holmes story is and what fans want it to be. Meaning that among the mystery of a murder in the theater district there's plenty of space for characterization too, fit neatly in among all the clues and interrogations. I remain particularly impressed with Meyer's Watson who (unlike other pastiches I could name) remains a true partner to Holmes, capable of holding his own even if he does not possess the same brilliance in deduction as his friend. Watson is a persuasive narrator, a former soldier, a detective in training-----Meyer's Holmes reminds readers that someone can be quirky without being cruel. He never once dissuades Watson from sharing his theories, no matter how many holes they might have. As a teacher I appreciate his rhetoric-----and we're never allowed to forget that Watson has his own successful career as a doctor. He's poised and confident here, as much a part of the story as Holmes is, something that's become rather rare in modern pastiches.
If you're a fan of call backs and references you'll also love the little nods to the canon that Meyer throws in, even going so far as to question his own authenticity as "editor" of the piece. From Holmes and Lestrade reminiscing about past cases to Watson thinking back on Mary, there's a little something for everyone no matter how far into the sixty stories you are. Additionally, Meyer is fascinated with weaving real life artists into Holmes' narratives. Yes, I agree with other reviews that highlighting people who are now celebrities can get heavy-handed at times, but in the end I found myself enjoying the allusions more than not. It's rare that I see anyone other than Jack the Ripper gracing the pages of a Holmes story, but Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde certainly hold their own here. For me they add a certain amount of weight to the tale. Like all those fans who send letters to 221 Baker Street might not have been wrong in thinking that there really was once a genius detective watching over London...
Overall I stand by my original statement: it's a damn shame that Meyer has only given us three books. Then again, the man's still kicking, even if he has turned his attention primarily to Star Trek (not that I'm entirely complaining about that, mind). So perhaps we'll get another novel someday. Until then I'll be saving The Canary Trainer until I can bear the wait no longer while you, lucky reader, have the pleasure of still picking up a copy of The West End Horror for yourself. I certainly encourage you to do so.