Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Mangle Street Murders: Doctor Watson Was A Woman

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(ARC given by NetGalley)

Author: M. R. C. Kasasian
Publishing House: Head of Zeus
336 pages
Publication: 1st November  2013
Review written by Lady Entropy

Gower Street, London, 1882:
Sidney Grice, London's most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door. Sidney Grice shudders. For heaven's sake – she is wearing brown shoes.


The Mangle Street Murders works on a solid premise: What if Sherlock Holmes were inspired on a real person (he actually was, but he was a doctor, not a detective) and the stories that came to us were twisted slightly but still recognizable.

Now, some might say this is a mighty mighty spoiler, but really, the moment you start reading and meet the detective himself, you realize what this is all about, so really, it's not that much a spoiler -- most of my read and before the confirmation, I thought the author was tongue-in-cheek trying to rewrite Sherlock Holmes and try to make it different but still similar.

So, anyone who likes\knows Sherlock Holmes will come to the same conclusion, hence, hard to consider it a spoiler.

The Narrator, and our would be John Watson, is, instead a woman -- and the strongest part of the book. She was daughter of a surgeon and helped him, thus turning out to be a practical, strong woman, with some interesting habits and who does not need, in any sort of way, a man to make her feel validated. I like her quite a lot, even if her constant flashbacks and memories about her lost lover started to be wearisome at a point.

The mystery that brings the whole thing together (the Mangle Street Murder) was solid, but it lost some potency when it tried to insert the apparently insane and random elements that Sherlock Holmes story have (that at first sight seem weird, but then have a huge reason to be there) it felt a tad out of place. However, the final twists were interesting, solid, even if you could almost tick from a checklist the things that the author was borrowing from Sherlock Holmes (to pretend it was the original inspiration). The end, however, did disappoint, because it felt more Deus Ex Machina than anything else.

If I had to choose what I disliked most was our titular Sherlock Holmes. Well, our proto Sherlock Holmes. Now, I can see the author wanted to be quite different from the prickly, but still "nice" (to a point) Holmes. So she gave us the worst character - worst not because he's unlikeable. Worst because instead of having a personality, he is simply "Not-Holmes". He feels inconsistent and unredeemable just for the sake of trying to distinguish him from the character he inspired. I could deal with him being an asshole (see House MD), but here? The great detective was just annoying. I wanted to read about the main character and the good inspector, and this man was constantly jumping into my action and going "I'm Smart! I'm an Asshole! I'm Not Holmes!"

Still, it was a solid read, with some interest twists, even if it borrowed too much inspiration and spent too much time winking at the Sherlock Holmes mythos. If this author can drop the Holmes easter eggs at every turn, and focus on her own creativity and ideas, this series can actually become excellent. It has a solid main character (the Narrator, not Wannabe-Holmes), and some quite good ideas for mystery writing.

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