Mark Sohn’s The Absentee Detective: Tales of Conspiracy, Connivance, and Intrigue is a 2018 collection of four short stories. These are The Detective Who Wasn’t, The Detective Who Wasn’t There, The Unlikely Detective, and The Tinseltown Detective. All the stories are of a sufficient length to develop their complex plots and provide a very satisfying read.
The first story, The Detective Who Wasn’t, features, not Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, but Mortimer Knight and Baxter Belmont, two actors who play those respective parts on stage. The story begins when ‘Holmes’ is approached by a young boy who believes the two men are the real Holmes and Watson. He wants them to investigate why his beloved collie suddenly bit him and his mother. Thus begins a serpentine tale that stretches over British countryside and history, with nods to Charles II and Nazi spies.
I realise this story might prove a challenge to the Holmes purist, but I really enjoyed it. Mark Sohn has a light touch, a deep fondness for his characters, and a highly readable style of writing. The relationship between this ‘Holmes’ and ‘Watson’ is familiar enough to be comfortable, and yet completely fresh and new. The story also passed my litmus test of excellence: it had a terrific ending. No, no hints.
The next story, The Detective Who Wasn’t There, finds Watson holding the fort while Holmes is engaged on a case in Scotland. The story is set ten years after The Blue Carbuncle (which puts it in 1897 if we go by the Baring-Gould chronology), and the case is being investigated by the reliable Inspector Bradstreet. Mark Sohn is a master of description. Consider this passage:
Baker Street, that most busy of metropolitan thoroughfares was unusually hectic that glorious Tuesday morning. Bradstreet made his way through the throng avoiding the paper-sellers and the flower girl, threw some coppers down for the blind Afghanistan campaigner with the highly-polished campaign medals, and strode briskly up to the bell-pull of 221.
The story itself involves a murder, and an amnesiac who faces the noose despite being unable to defend himself of charges. Fans of canonical Sherlock Holmes will delight in this story. Sohn has crafted a fine tale that gives Watson a chance to take some limelight himself for a change, and also offers cameos to some familiar characters.
The Unlikely Detective is set in 1990 and begins with the narrator finding documents that belonged to one Mycroft Holmes. I loved this story, and found it both witty and poignant. I think anything I add will spoil the plot, so I’ll let you relish it on your own.
Finally, we reach The Tinseltown Detective featuring one Basil Rathbone. Here, Sohn demonstrates that his mastery of place is not confined to his native UK; his description of California is equally vivid. The tale involves blackmail, and a number of intriguing characters show up to offer clarity or confusion.
Mark Sohn’s world is one in which Sherlock Holmes permeates even the most unlikely aspects of life. His stories are very different from the usual pastiches but, in my opinion, that’s what makes them so much fun. Readers are in safe hands with Mr Sohn. His characters, plots, and endings all work. He is also an author who is at his best when he shares the English landscape he so clearly loves. His passion for his subject resonates delightfully with this Holmes fan. More, please!
Author Mark Sohn is a native of Sussex, not far from the English Channel. You can find more of his work on his blogs at https://volcanocat.blogspot.co.uk/ for film reviews and Pop Culture in general, and https://sherlockholmesof221b.blogspot.co.uk/ for reviews and items related to the World’s first Consulting Detective. The Absentee Detective is available from all the usual outlets, and directly from MX Publishing.