A frantic mother comes to SHERLOCK HOLMES, begging him to find her son, a navy officer who has not returned from the war in South Africa. He has been labelled a deserter, yet she is sure he would never abandon his men. Holmes and Watson begin their own inquiries, but encounter resistance from the establishment, and an attempt is made on Holmes’s life. So begins a tale of intrigue and empire, as Holmes and Watson uncover a conspiracy that goes far beyond one missing sailor...
I believe I could live 500 years or even 1000 without ever running out of new Sherlock Holmes stories to read. But how to choose which one to read next? Well, in my case randomly. This one had received positive reviews and seemed like it was written by proper writers and not some chimpanzees who had just escaped from the zoo and found a typewriter in a trash bin. Believe me, there are some horrendous misfires out there which should have never seen the light of day.
The story takes place around the beginning of Dr. Watson’s association with the great detective in the 1880’s. This confused me a bit, since there is a connection to the Boer War. How could this be? Well, I learned something new from this book. Like most people I assumed that the Boer War took place in 1899-1902, but then I looked up the specifics of this conflict, and it turned out that that was actually what they call the Second Boer War. The first one took place almost two decades earlier and ended with a catastrophic defeat for the British.
This is the conflict in which a certain young navy officer has perished. His mother does not believe the official version that her son is a deserter and hopes that he might be alive somewhere and innocent. Enter Sherlock Holmes who is always willing to help the desperate. The British admiralty shows little cooperation even hiring some goons to threaten Holmes, while another party sends a mysterious Indian assassin.
Why so much fuzz over one missing soldier? There must be something larger going on.
Holmes speculates that there is a connection to Benjamin Disraeli’s death, meaning that the former Prime Minister has been poisoned to prevent him from uncovering a political conspiracy. Watson manages to get hold of the politician’s medical records and believes that he was killed by castor bean extract. By following the trail of the poison (apparently back then castor beans were mostly produced in India) Holmes and Watson manage to find out the names of the conspirators.
This is an action-packed tale full of assassination attempts, chases and fights. One particularly exciting chapter sees Holmes and Watson evading a poison gas attack on a train.
One unusual aspect of the book is that Holmes and Watson are facing money trouble. With no lucrative cases lately the great detective is running out of funds. Apparently even literary icons have to struggle with mundane issues of this kind.
As a mystery it is actually a bit weak and I never cared much about the cases where Sherlock got involved in political issues, but it’s a good, solid book nonetheless. 3,5 stars, but since I’m a stingy bastard, I only give three. I know, I know, Christmas is approaching and I should really become a bit more generous with my star ratings, I promise I’m going to change before I end up like some curmudgeonly Scrooge-like figure.