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The Jury Box

 By Steve Steinbock

In last month’s issue, which celebrated the “Great Detective,” Sherlock Holmes, we completely filled the Jury Box with reviews of Sherlockian pastiches, reference books, facsimiles, and scholarly works. Twelve volumes of Sherlockiana. I believe that is unprecedented. It’s been a banner year for the sleuth of Baker Street. This month, I was looking forward to a theme-free column, to review some of the assorted gems that had made a prominent place for themselves on my desk. But no sooner had the ink dried on the last issue than four additional books of Sherlockian interest came in. We’ll take a brief look at them before moving on to unrelated new titles.

Anthony Horowitz is the creator of British TV’s Foyle’s War and over fifty books, including the young adult Alex Rider series. In 2009 his Holmes pastiche The House of Silk was published. A second Holmes novel, Moriarty (Harper, $26.99), appeared in bookstores this past December. Laurie R. King’s thirteenth novel featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, Dreaming Spies (Bantam, $26.00) takes Holmes and his adventuress wife to Japan. It’s scheduled for release around the same time as this issue. Coincidentally, Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan (Poisoned Pen Press) by Indian author Vasudev Murthy, also slated for release in March 2015, involves crime in the Far East during the years after Reichenbach Falls. Short-story anthologies are the purview of my colleague Jon L. Breen, but I’d like to draw your attention to The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes edited by Loren D. Estleman (Tyrus Books, $26.99), which includes a dozen pastiches by Estleman, Ellery Queen, Edward D. Hoch, J.M. Barrie, Sax Rohmer, and others.

Margaret Maron, Designated Daughters, Grand Central Publishing, $27.00. Maron, known for the quality of her prose, also has a knack for good plots and colorful characters. In this new Judge Deborah Knott novel, the magistrate probes her own family’s past when her aunt is murdered on her deathbed. In her final hours of life, Aunt Rachel had begun dredging up memories and sharing them with those at her bedside. But it would seem someone didn’t want her to say any more. At the core of this novel are the issues and ethics of elder care.

Alan Bradley, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, Delacorte Press, $25.00. This series featuring a precocious preteen living in 1950s England has become a favorite of mine. Shunned by her older sisters, narrator Flavia de Luce is usually seen hiding away in the abandoned wing of her family’s crumbling ancestral home, performing experiments with her uncle’s chemistry set and longing for her mother, who’s been missing since Flavia’s earliest childhood. After learning the fate of her mother (in the previous novel), Flavia has been banished to a boarding school in Canada where her mother is legendary. The change in setting may be unsettling for longtime readers, and I know I long to see Flavia back in England. But the book has all the hallmarks that have made the series so popular. A girl is missing, a body has been found stuffed in a chimney, and there’s a secret society of women heroes in which Flavia finds herself suddenly a member.

Christopher Fowler, Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart, Bantam, $26.00. Another series that has become a favorite of mine is this one about a pair of aging detectives in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. Each volume is filled with intriguing impossible situations as well as fascinating morsels of cultural and historical trivia. At the opening of this eleventh novel in the series, a pair of teenagers frolicking in a London cemetery are interrupted when a body apparently rises from a grave. In addition, the ravens at the tower of London have disappeared. The book is filled with humor, endearing characters, and dark twists, which, along with Fowler’s clever plotting, make it a standout.

Bernadette Pajer, The Edison Effect, Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (HC), $14.95 (TPB). I had the pleasure of reviewing Pajer’s first novel featuring Professor Bradshaw. The latest book, set in winter 1903, has Thomas Edison visiting Seattle to seek a lost device. It was in that winter that electric Christmas lights were first made available for retail consumers. When a man is electrocuted while setting up a department store window display, Professor Bradshaw sees a conspiracy at play. Pajer captures subtle details of early Seattle in a way that is charming and edifying without being overwhelming, while also stringing together several interesting themes and subplots.

Anne Perry, Blood on the Water, Random House, $26.00. A luxury river-cruise ship explodes on the Thames, leaving nearly two hundred people dead. Thames River Police commander William Monk witnesses the incident and is on hand to help save the survivors, but the investigation is wrested from him by the London Metropolitan Police, who quickly—too quickly in Monk’s view—arrest an Egyptian importer. Helping out behind the scenes is Scuff, the orphan (first met in 2004’s The Shifting Tide) whom theMonks have taken in. The streetwise urchin is more than a little reminiscent of Doyle’s character Wiggins and the Baker Street Irregulars.

In the June 2014 issue we reviewed the e-book edition of Voyage of Strangers by Elizabeth Zelvin, based on characters from the story “The Green Cross” (EQMM, August 2010). The novel, about a pair of young Jews sailing incognito on Columbus’s second voyage, is now available in print from Lake Union Publishing ($14.95).

John Pugmire, translator of numerous stories for EQMM’s Passport to Crime, has been busy with his niche publishing house Locked Room International. Paul Halter’s The Picture from the Past (Locked Room Inter-national, $19.99), the ninth Halter novel translated by Pugmire, features two parallel stories, one about a grisly murderer in the late 1950s, and the other set in the present day, focusing on a secretive man obsessed with a photograph. Also available is The Derek Smith Omnibus (Locked Room International, $29.99), collecting three novels by the late British impossible-crime writer. If the name Derek Howe Smith is unfamiliar to most readers, it is for good reason. Only one of his novels was professionally published, and a second novel was circulated by a Japanese fan group. But among locked-room aficionados, Smith’s work is highly respected.

Two new volumes about crime stories produced on stage have appeared recently. The Villainous Stage: Crime Plays on Broadway and in the West End by Marvin Lachman (McFarland Books, $45.00) goes through the entire history from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, including chapters on Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, courtroom dramas, and musicals. Lachman has been a lifelong devotee of the criminal stage. His knowledge is thorough and his analysis comprehensive and concise.

Amnon Kabatchnik, Blood on the Stage, 480 B.C. to 1600 A.D., Rowman & Littlefield, $125.00. Don’t be intimidated by the high price tag. Contained in this reference book are two thousand years’ worth of murder and mystery as depicted on stage. Kabatchnik’s four previous volumes in the series covered the twentieth century, surveying the “Milestone plays of murder, mystery, and mayhem.” This prequel covers more than fifty plays, starting with three works by Aeschylus, and finishing off with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Among other works discussed are Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, several anonymous Christian mystery plays, and a number of plays by Christopher Marlowe. The six lengthy appendices include a look at Goethe’s 19th-century Faust, which was based, in large part, on Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1588).

 © 2015 Steve Steinbock

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