When I was a child, I had a habit of making a fort out of books. I’d stack them up to make walls, and then climb inside and build a roof from whatever storybooks were left over. Living in London during the 1950s could be scary, and my book-fort was the place I felt safest.
Fast-forward to the 2020s and the entire world seems to be on the cusp of annihilation. Though I no longer live in London or in the US, as an adult I realise the impact those two places have on the rest of the globe, and, right now, I find their current climates terrifying. I feel deep anxiety and concern for my friends around the world, and for all people of good will who march for their rights and for justice. I grew up in the age of Kennedy and King, Selma and Birmingham, Vietnam and Watergate. I’ve seen good people fight bad laws, or bad law-makers, or bad law-men for most of my life. I’m no less willing to stand with all oppressed people now than I was as a teenager.
Although I no longer build forts of books, I do find refuge in reading them when the real world becomes too much to bear. This week, the book was These Scattered Houses by Gretchen Altabef. The story takes place during The Great Hiatus, that period in Sherlock Holmes’s life when the world believed he was dead. For two years he avoided Professor Moriarty’s men and traveled under the identity of a Norwegian explorer called Sigerson.
Ms Altabef’s novel takes place in Ploughkeepsie, New York during this ‘lost’ period. The author has meticulously researched and depicted the delights and horrors of that world remarkably well. The novel shows a deft handling of a landscape unfamiliar to most of us. The author also captured Holmes’s voice very neatly. As I wrote my first three novels from Holmes’s point of view, I know all too well how difficult it is to make that voice sound authentic.
In addition to Holmes, the novel introduces several intriguing characters including Harry Houdini. Each was well drawn and three-dimensional.
There’s always a danger when writing a review of a mystery story. It’s unfair to the reader to reveal too much of the plot. Suffice to say, These Scattered Houses offers plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader hooked.
Sherlock Holmes These Scattered Houses by Gretchen Altabef
A client forsworn, a threatened town, and a Goliath of unimaginable proportions . . .
Sherlock Holmes has survived a three-year vendetta against him by Moriarty’s remaining henchmen. Wounded and bleeding, with Mycroft’s help he clandestinely boards an Atlantic steamship. At the close of his great hiatus, Holmes finds sanctuary at Vassar Women’s College.
This radical challenge entangles him in the web of a nefarious mystery. Its unraveling involves New York’s most revolutionary residents: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. To pluck his client from danger, he drafts the twenty-year-old Harry Houdini in outrageous sleight of hand. Four villains embroil the plot. The lives of everyday citizens inexorably rise to heroism.
And it all begins when a twelve-year-old girl matches wits with Sherlock Holmes on Market Street.
These Scattered Houses is a daring adventure in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As Professor Sigerson the pansophic gentleman of justice, Holmes is confronted by the evil that lurks within the smiling and beautiful countryside.
These Scattered Houses is available from MX Publishing and the usual outlets.