(Graham Moore; 350 pages; TWELVE/HATCHETTE BOOK GROUP; 2010)
I picked this one up for next to nothing from the close-out/overstock section (kind of like a cut-out bin, but for books) of a large national book repository. Let me say here and now that next to free, this is my favorite way to acquire stuff. It allows me to take chances on things (usually records, but also books, DVDs, comics and certain food stuffs) that I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a medium-sized poking instrument. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but, at the end of the day, those losses are minimal with a huge potential for the win keeping me coming back (kinda like a junkie or an habitual gambler). The first line of Graham Moore’s debut novel, THE SHERLOCKIAN – “Arthur Conan Doyle curled his brow tightly and thought only of murder.” – had me convinced that I’d totally blown nearly three bucks here. 350 pages later, I closed what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable – if somewhat predictable – murder mystery, encompassing three centuries and two continents.
To be more precise, THE SHERLOCKIAN is actually two separate mysteries, one based marginally on fact (a lost diary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a murder believed to be prompted by the discovery of that same diary) and set in the present; the second is a fictionalized account of Sir Arthur’s early 20th century consultations with Scotland Yard (in the form of a serial murderer sought by Conan Doyle and his friend, Bram Stoker after the Yard drops the investigations, believing they have solved the initial crime). The lost diary plays an integral part in both plots, obviously, or this book would have been presented as two shorter stories, unconnected by anything but vague subject matter.
The stories that Mister Moore weaves are certainly intriguing. Without giving away too much, I’ll tell you that the fictionalized history (and contents) of the very real lost diary involves Conan Doyle and Stoker’s ultimate solution to the 1900-era murders and a threat to Sir Arthur’s life. The modern part of the story involves members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a worldwide organization of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts (called “Sherlockians,” thus the title). As they are holding their annual meeting, everyone is excited about an upcoming presentation by one of their better known members, who claims to have the lost diary – the Holy Grail of Sherlockian lore – in his possession. This inevitably leads to his demise and sends the Irregulars’ newest member, Harold White, off to solve the mystery, side-by-side with a beautiful journalist. Along the way, they are followed by shady characters and confronted by Conan Doyle’s grandson (in reality, Sir Arthur’s children had no offspring, so the character of Sebastian Conan Doyle is completely fictitious). Both stories take twists and turns that would make Conan Doyle proud (and maybe a little dizzy) and are, ultimately, more fulfilling than my initial perception would have allowed me to think possible. The historical data and the use of the Baker Street Irregulars backdrop make the intertwining stories much more enjoyable, as they lend a feeling of realism and truth to what is essentially a work of fiction.
To date, I believe that this is Moore’s only novel, though he does seem to be highly sought-after in the movie industry. For more on Graham Moore’s THE SHERLOCKIAN, check out www.thesherlockian.com.