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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Dark Water by David Pirie

The Dark Water: The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes by David Pirie. New York: Pegasus Books, 2006. ISBN: 1-933648-11-2

The narrator and primary protagonist of this tale is none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself. The author has written two other Arthur Conan Doyle novels, The Patient's Eyes and The Night Calls, neither of which I've read. I suppose the subtitle of this one refers to the fact that in the novel, Doyle works with the real life Dr. Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University, on whom Doyle based at least some aspects of the character of Sherlock Holmes.

The story itself is a convoluted one. At its beginning, Doyle finds himself locked up and drugged into near insensibility in a remote location. Managing to escape only by the barest of margins, he and Dr. Bell work to track down the sociopathic, probably psychopathic criminal who had imprisoned him, a former acquaintance named Thomas Neill Cream.

The pair of investigators, Bell and Doyle, attempt to track Cream down, determined to bring him to justice, kill him if need be, to rid the earth of this monster, who kills for pleasure, and delights in tormenting others for his enjoyment. Their quest takes them to east coast of England, to an out of the way place which however, features a famous legend, the story of the witch of Dunwich heath.

Further, a newspaper article informs them that one Oliver Jefford, recent beneficiary of a sizable inheritance that includes a house near the infamous Dunwich heath, has disappeared in a manner that has significant connections to the legend. Bell and Doyle have independent reason to believe that Cream has also removed himself to this area, so naturally they follow to take up the chase.

The story is written in a fairly engaging style, somewhat reminiscent of Doyle's own tales of the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, but it seemed to be altogether too complicated, and at the same time, too strung out, and the plot too full of holes to be entirely plausible.

For example, Bell and Doyle spend considerable time in the area, investigating the mysterious disappearance and related events, and later we find that Cream himself has presumably been in the area the entire time also, and yet he makes no attempts to interfere with the investigation until all is complete, and the basic mystery unraveled.

What was Cream supposed to have been doing all this time? Dr. Bell admittedly has a gun, but Doyle travels about the area unarmed and Cream makes no attempts on his life? Is content to just stand by and wait for them to track him to his lair? I suppose we're supposed to believe that he is just waiting for them to solve the disappearance of Jefford and his stash of money, since that is when he does finally make his move, but it just seemed implausible to me as I was reading.

I also don't quite see the point of fictionalizing the real life figures of Doyle and Bell. Why not just write more Holmes and Watson stories? Still, the story is competently written, and reasonably entertaining. Not compellingly so, not to the point that I feel the necessity of rushing out to read the others in the series. Semi-enthusiastically recommended.

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