I have a confession to make. About a quarter of the way through reading Sherlock Holmes: The Counterfeit Detective I closed the book and said to nobody in particular, “What’s the point? What is the point of a new Sherlock Holmes novel?”
There are four original Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories, collected in five anthologies. For those who prefer a visual medium, there are innumerable film and television adaptations of Conan Doyle’s work, some of which even star Benedict Cumberbatch. If this wasn’t enough, there are also Sherlock Holmes board games, comic strips and stage plays
I’m relatively certain there are far kinkier Holmes products on the market but I’m scared to enquire.
Who is not satiated by this surfeit of material? Who out there is calling for new Sherlock Holmes novels, and not only new novels but novels which aim to ape the originals?
Because that is what The Counterfeit Detective is, an attempt by the author, Stuart Douglas, to persuade the reader they could be reading Conan Doyle himself.
In the novel (which I did finish after my hissy fit) Holmes is forced to travel to the United States because an imposter, a blackmailer, is posing as the famous detective and soiling his good name. Watson joins him for the ride, of course.
However, what appears to be a simple task rapidly become more complex and far more dangerous. Once in New York further deceit, murder and horror will be revealed and the closer Sherlock and Watson get to finding the fake Holmes the more apparent it is that he is not the criminal mastermind they truly seek.
Of itself, The Counterfeit Detective isn’t bad. Stuart Douglas is a relatively skilful writer, although he does have a tendency toward tautology, the plot is somewhat engaging and everything a reader would expect from a Holmes story is to be found inside the covers. We see Sherlock solving minor mysteries early using his phenomenal powers of deduction, we see him insult Watson’s stupidity, we see him effortlessly fool the felonious who dare test him.
Unfortunately it’s precisely this slavish attempt to facsimile the original that means The Counterfeit Detective isn’t enjoyable. Like every novel that has been put together to a template, like a Mills and Boon novel, it rings false, it makes the skin tingle uncomfortably. It’s almost a Sherlock Holmes novel…but it’s not quite right.
Reading it I was reminded of putting together Ikea furniture, there are instructions to be followed, but no matter how closely they are adhered to, at some point you will turn around and realise your chair legs are on the wrong way round.
In the end you just want to say to the writer, please do your own thing, create something new. You have skill, you have talent, use it to bring something fresh to the table. Because, unfortunately, just as in The Counterfeit Detective Sherlock Holmes can spot the fake, the reader can also ascertain a pale copy.
Sherlock Holmes: The Counterfeit Detective was published by Titan Books on 18th October 2016.
You can purchase a copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Counterfeit Detective from Foyles:
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Review by Joseph Surtees
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