What Child is This? by Bonnie MacBird
A book which features the serious, dedicated and brilliant Sherlock Holmes at Christmas may be an unusual concept – surely the great man would not be interested in such celebrations as befit the season in the late Victorian era? In this beautifully illustrated book Dr Watson, the narrator as usual, has to work hard to interest Holmes in any form of festivity, so it is perhaps fortunate that two absorbing cases spring up in mid -December, 1890. This is the fifth book in MacBird’s enjoyable series featuring the famous detective in his traditional setting, but I can confirm that it works very well as a standalone novel even if you have not been keeping up with all of the other books. This is partly because this is essentially Holmes’ stories written with a contemporary flair, with a full understanding of the original tales, their characters and settings. The dialogue, especially between the sometimes temporarily bewildered and surprised Watson and the mysterious Holmes, reflects some of the humour and methods employed by the detective in Conan Doyle’s books. This is a truly enjoyable book, made even more memorable by the illustrations from Marvel artist Fran Cho, whose thoughtful pictures emphasise the essential points of the novel. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book which would make a lovely gift for any Sherlock Holmes fan and a treat for oneself!
As usual with MacBird’s novels which feature her long-time passion with Holmes and his world, The Prologue features the claim that this is an original story as discovered from the pen of Dr John Watson. It is therefore free of any of the gimmicks and jokes of twenty first century “Updates” in intention. It is in the busy time of the lead up to Christmas, and the now married Watson is staying with his “irritable friend” Holmes in the temporary absence of his wife Mary. In the absence of a tempting case, Holmes is conducting rather smelly experiment which is only interrupted by the arrival of a singular young woman, Heffie O’Malley. A protégé of the detective, her ability to assume the roles of poor girl and expensively dressed lady in turn has made her invaluable to Holmes when searching for information and now she is gainfully employed by Scotland Yard for her talents. Watson is compelled to persuade Holmes to leave the flat to avoid further odours, and it is when they are well fed and proceeding along Oxford Street that they are confronted by an expensively dressed woman who has been knocked to the pavement and a small boy being abducted by a large man. Launching into the melee, Holmes rescues the boy yet fails to detain the attacker. As Watson assists the lady and hands her Holmes’ card, the two friends enter a world of the plight of children in the city of London, where they are subject to threats and ill treatment. The case as it emerges is a complicated one, made more challenging by an old adversary of Holmes and the complex motives of those chiefly involved. Another case of a missing son, this time an adult, means that Holmes is forced to employ not only the special services of Heffie, but also involve Watson in a change of clothes.
The book is subtitled “A Sherlock Holmes Christmas Adventure”, and certainly the two cases and their surrounding circumstances require more than the deductive reasoning that Holmes often employs as they take the two men to some unusual places and events. This book is enthralling and well-paced, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.