‘Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?’ is Paul Cornell’s third novel in his ‘Shadow Police’ series. Known for his powerful ‘Doctor Who’ stories used in novels, audio and TV, Cornell has turned to crime to make a bigger splash. if you haven’t read the first two novels in the series, ‘London Falling’ and ‘The Severed Streets’, then I urge you to read them in order, even though it’s possible to pick up what is happening from just starting with this one.
Centring around a team of four, the action takes place in London of today. We can recognise its streets, problems and virtues. Our team are DI James Quill who heads up from their very own portacabin and his three disparate team members, Sefton, Costain and Ross. They are the Continuing Projects Team who look at the crimes that you don’t want to. Kev Sefton is an undercover cop, as is Tony Costain, and they are very different. Lisa Ross is a crime analyst who brings her intense and, in their first case, personal knowledge of crime and criminals. Their ultimate bemused boss, who knew she should set this team up whilst being unsure why, is DS Rebecca Lofthouse. She’s got a very personal interest in the outcome of this case.
What Lofthouse lacks is what the other four are cursed with: The Sight. In the first novel, ‘London Falling’, they move from being innocent of the supernatural into full and awful knowledge of the underbelly of London and its many threats. Not, as it turns out, a pleasant Sight.
The team are in a bad way as ‘Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?’ opens. Jimmy Quill has been to hell and back and he’s not coping. Costain and Ross have issues. Sefton seems to be the only one to have got his ducks in a row. They are still up against the Smiling Man, who has grander plans which form the continuing story arc of the three novels. Despite having the Sight, they are very mortal and do battle with forces they are only just beginning to comprehend.
Beginning with a series of apparently Sherlock Holmes’ inspired murders, there is then a lovely cross-over of sorts as the next murder is of Holmes himself. For a man who never lived, this is a major feat. The team find the murdered ghost of the famous detective. As I said, a difficult case when only the team can see the ‘body’ at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street. Ghosts it seems can be created by popular feeling and Holmes is one of the most famous.
It seems part of the problem is that there are three Sherlocks in town and the buzz is very loud about the actors and their shows. One is from an American TV show, another Gilbert Flamstead was the BBC’s ‘Holmes’ and the third from the Hollywood movies. ‘Holmesmania’ is gripping the capital and things are about to fall about. Again, it’s just a shame the team are all pulling in opposite directions.
Lisa Ross lost her happiness and her twin desires to get it back and rescue her father from Hell lead down some dangerous dark alleys. Kev Sefton is experimenting with dangerous magic to save the team he thinks of as family. Tony Costain comes to terms with his failed relationship with Ross and his on-going battle with his own darkness. Quill is still in his own personal hell. Lofthouse needs to find some answers starting with zero knowledge about how her team actually operate.
‘Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?’ manages to make the production of great realistic dialogue and character development alongside some snappy descriptive work look easy. The clever plotting and sub-plots make this a very worthwhile and enjoyable read. The characters feel real. They have lives outside of the book and continue even as we put it down. This to me is a mark of success when you feel the continuing life of a novel outside of the written down parts. Trying to work out where it’s all going to end makes this another head-scratcher too. I think this is a good third instalment and, if you’ve not dipped your toe in the Thames yet, it’s a great time with three books to devour.
My only problem with this is that it came to an end. ‘Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?’ should be followed by monthly instalments in ‘The Strand Magazine’ for those who can’t wait for the next novel. Keep writing Mr. Cornell. We’ll keep reading.
(pub: Pan Macmillan. 368 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-44727-326-4)
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com