The Dead Assassin: The Paranormal Casebooks of Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughan Entwistle (book review)

July 28, 2015 | By | Reply More

It certainly looks like Mr. Conan Doyle won’t be allowed to rest in peace. ‘The Dead Assassin’ by Vaughan Entwistle constructs a narrative around the fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle investigating the paranormal. This is the second book in the series which started with ‘The Revenant Of Thraxton Hall’.


Arthur is in the midst of a guilty meeting with a fetching young lady from his spiritualist club, Miss Jean Leckie, when he is rudely interrupted by a bleeding policeman. Really, some people have no manners. It transpired the policeman, Detective Blenkinsop, has been at the scene of a bloody murder. Not only is that it is an impossible crime but the assassin is already dead. As Conan Doyle seeks answers from the scene of the crime, he only finds more questions.

Conan Doyle teams up with his great friend, Oscar Wilde, a man always willing to make a crisis out of a drama and together they find themselves drawn into a murky world. From toymakers to politician to whispered messages and assassination attempts, this is a London that we don’t quite recognise. It has steam-powered motorcycles which sound made up but were really built and other mechanics that are truly a fictional creation and we are taken into a world very different to our own. This seedy, dark and mysterious version of Victorian England is close enough to reality to make this feel genuine enough and it is easy to get sucked into the plot, which not only features dangerous men, but also possibly fatal affairs of the heart.

We must also navigate, along with Conan Doyle, the tenuous relationship with the young Miss Leckie while his wife, eaten up by consumption, is preparing to leave the mortal world behind. Wilde must wrestle with his own desires and mores as he considers leaving his family behind. All the while, the reality of death to life is a whisper away behind the hastily drawn veil.

There is quite a depth of field and a plethora of obscure vocabulary that I have not encountered, sending me hurtling to the dictionary.

I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because I found it so surprising and because of the background it made the fictional aspects more likely to be real. There is a melancholy to both Conan Doyle and Wilde, a realisation that this world is soon to be swept away. The imminence of Wilde’s disgrace and of Conan Doyle’s acceptance of his wife’s inevitable death form a sombre background to the inevitable approach of war as men seek power in all its forms. It also makes a great action adventure and has some memorable moments, even though some of them feel rather contrived. Despite the little odd niggles, the overall impression is highly positive and I’m looking forward to reading more by Vaughan Entwistle.

Sue Davies

July 2015

(pub: Titan Books. 336 pages paperback. Price: £12.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78329-268-4)

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Category: Books, Steampunk

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