Review: The Watson Chronicles.

For those of you who are suffering from a deficit of Sherlock, wondering why Robert Downy Jr. hasn’t made another Sherlock Holmes film already, and the okay-Elementary isn’t really cutting it, have we got something for you.

A while back, Ann Margaret Lewis wrote Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, in which she had the venerable detective come face to face with Pope Leo XIII, with a guest cleric named Father Brown. Holmes solved mysteries that Arthur Conan Doyle only hinted at in his books — Sherlock fans will recognize the title of the short story “The Vatican Cameos.”

In book two, Madam Lewis tackles the next great task in filling the Sherlockian mysteries — giving Dr. Watson a personal life.

This book takes place in the latter years of Sherlock Holmes’ career.  He is finally about to move to Sussex and raise bees, and Watson goes back into private practice (since he had been living off of his stories published in The Strand). Watson has a nervous landlord, a sickly partner, and a lovely upstairs neighbor. But, as with Jessica Fletcher, the bodies soon hit the floor, and the good Doctor is drawn into international intrigue and murder, and requires the aid two Holmes brothers.

And that’s part one of The Watson Chronicles: A Sherlock Holmes Novel in Stories.  True, it’s broken down into short story format, but it’s a novel, plain and simple, written in such a fashion as to mirror the writing style and structure as Arthur Conan Doyle.  And if you don’t believe that she writes in his style, I tell you that even the paragraph structure reads like Arthur Conan Doyle.

A good chunk of this book is a romance. No, not written porn, in the modern sense.  There are some elements of romantic comedy, mixed with some solid drama (real drama, not forced conflict for sake of drawing it out). We have a good, strong female romantic lead in the upstairs neighbor, Lucyna Modjeska — Lucy, for short (and if you quibble with me because she doesn’t throw a single punch or kick in the book, I will answer that it takes more strength to deal with both Holmes brothers than could be managed by Xena: Warrior Princess). Lucy is a bit of a saint, with all the flaws that implies.  And if you don’t think a saint can be flawed, read some of the lives of the saints sometimes; there is a reason the church says that saints are to be admired, not necessarily imitated. It becomes an interesting time having a Polish-American Catholic working with two British Anglicans. She is a great addition to this established cast of characters, and works well with all the moving parts involved.

Great line: “One way to impress a Catholic girl is to tell her that you met the pope.”

One of the fun parts of this book — and there are so many, it’s hard to count — is the way Lewis has the stories interact with “reality.” Basically, Watson’s a writer, and writers get feedback, whether they like it or not.  There are some stories that are published years apart, and why is that? How does Watson deal with his own fans? That sort of thing. Lewis also addresses the little feature of how it was ten years between Holmes’ death and resurrection in print, but only 3 years in the Holmes universe, leading to lines like “I’m so glad to know you’re not dead.”

And Mycroft Holmes gets his own murder mystery to solve. It’s fun.  Then again, Mycroft and Sherlock actually act like brothers, at one point one-upping each other.  (Great line #2: “Holmes, you do not like women. Well, I don’t like people.”)   And then there’s the story of his time in Montenegro, which makes for an interesting nod to another overweight genius in detective fiction.

I’m trying to put into words just how much I like this book, and it’s hard. It truly is.  Especially since I don’t want to come off as a fanboy.  This book is so good, I’m almost sad that there is no sequel already planned and penned; though the ending makes for such a good conclusion to Lewis’ Sherlock works, as well as the entire Holmes canon. I’m not exaggerating.  With with Murder in the Vatican, I want to go back and reread all of these stories in order with the original Arthur Conan Doyle works, but I’m afraid that he will come out the worst for it.  But if I do, The Watson Chronicles will be the last thing I read, just so I can end it all on a high note.

Okay, let’s skip to the interesting part. Buy this book.  Buy this book now.  If you didn’t buy Murder in the Vatican, what are you waiting for? Buy that too.  While you’re at it, buy a dozen other copies for your friends and family.

You want more reasons?  Because Ann Lewis has taken every single hole left by Arthur Conan Doyle and filled it.  Did you know that Watson had three wives because Doyle couldn’t keep track of the names or who he had killed? Ann Lewis filled all of that in. Did you know that ACD couldn’t remember if Watson had been shot in the leg or the shoulder? Lewis addresses that too.

You’re going to read this book for every little character touch between Holmes, Watson, Lucy and Mycroft — Mycroft, who is a major player in this book that he never was in actual Sherlock canon, and he has some of the best lines in this book, even when he’s not recreating natural law. You’re going to read this book for Dr. Watson’s wedding being presided over by the “inscrutable” Father Brown, and to see almost every single case Sherlock Holmes has ever solved come back to him in one of the most tightly written, canon-filled and canon-filling books put on paper.

And you’re going to read this book because it is one of the best, most touching, hilarious, heart warming, tear-jerking Sherlock Holmes novels ever written.

Stop reading this review, click on the link, and start reading. Go. Now. Don’t just stare at the page, go.

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About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, and nominated for Best Horror at the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, to be released by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set to Kill," murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
  • Bellomy

    Conan Doyle’s attitude towards his stories is amusing. He had an established continuity and brought it up often but the little details really didn’t concern him, to the endless frustration of his fans.Thus, John Watson becomes James Watson, Watson gets three wives, and thanks to “The Valley of Fear” I guess Watson just lied in “The Final Problem” when he said he’d never heard of Moriarty before that point.

    I think the claim he hated Holmes is an exaggerated one, but I think it’s safe to say he didn’t get all the fuss.

  • Bellomy

    And you’re right that it is something of a shame that Watson’s personal life was never explored again since “The Sign of Four”. Those who re-read it may be surprised to find that it’s actually a lovely romance between John and Mary Morstan. It’s the only book besides “The Hound of the Baskervilles” where I’d say John was the main character rather than Holmes.

  • Terry Sanders

    I would do as you demand, but a $20 paperback doesn’t give that option to a broke truck driver. Perhaps Wessex Press will at some point acknowledge book distirbution technologies newer than their settings. 🙂