The Accidental Detective by Melvyn Small – An enjoyable resetting of the Sherlock Holmes stories to contemporary Middlesbrough!

The Accidental Detective by Melvyn Small

Holmes is a sort of a detective – in a very different way. This is a novel that takes the Sherlock Holmes conventions and views them in a completely different way. The stories are narrated by a Doctor John Watson, but the setting is Middlesbrough in the present day. They are full of local colour, dialogue and characters that seem to fit into the area. Holmes’ accommodation is a flat above Martha’s vintage clothes shop, he is often to be found in a pub on Baker Street, and he has a healthy disrespect for authority. He has superb powers of observation even though he can joke about his findings as he works through someone’s appearance and what it implies. This is a very funny, fascinating reinterpretation of the Holmes story without the London gloss and hi tech twists. The dialogue is terrific, full of the phrases and fulsome language of the area, and the cases are firmly based in the streets of Middlesbrough, as Holmes admits he has never actually been anywhere else. This is a novel which introduces Holmes through the eyes of a caring if confused new friend, who is often baffled and bewildered by what is happening and why. As someone who has read the original Holmes stories and many versions of the tales updated, reimagined and reset, I found a lot to enjoy in this vibrant and exciting novel. I found the writing really revelled in the setting, the characters and the plot as there were surprises to be found here. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.

This is a Holmes who is known to the police for the wrong reasons, indeed he has a criminal record and first encounters his sort of partner Watson when the latter is appointed as his court appointed psychologist. Not that Watson understands his patient, but they manage a series of sessions in which Holmes gives the correct responses. When he is faced with a sudden demand to track down Holmes after their official sessions have finished, he is more than willing to encounter his intriguing client once more, perhaps already having some understanding that adventures and excitement beckon despite Holmes’ less than effusive greeting. As he meets some of his contacts, discovers Holmes’ idiosyncratic way of working, his laid back but clear sighted view of life and the world, he becomes more intrigued and determined to follow his unique friend even when he is deliberately confusing. As with most good novels, it is the relationship between the two main characters which is the most fascinating, as well as the plot which works out in each of the six stories.

This is an enjoyable story with includes some mysteries which are far from straightforward as well as the overall narrative arc of Holmes and Watson getting to know each other in the light of the linked investigations which they undertake. As the stories go on new settings and characters emerge, and new sides to Holmes and his skills become clear to the reader via Watson, which I found fascinating and enjoyable. Overall this is a book which I enjoyed partly because of its realism and its irreverence to the Sherlock Holmes canon in its in jokes, reforming of the stories to a new setting and relatable characters in the twenty first century, and the underlying humour of the situations.