An iconic character like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes often generates knockoffs—some terrible, some fair. Few if any are ever as good as the original. Vasudev Murthy’s resurrection of the great detective, in his Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan, is no exception. It begins with some promise, but that promise peters out about halfway through the book. Murthy’s Holmes and Watson turn out to be more like the Rolexes sold on the streets of New York than those sold at Tiffany’s.
The novel is set in the years between Holmes’s supposed death in his plunge over the Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance in “The Adventure of the Empty House”—roughly the period between May 1891 to April 1894. Turns out that not only didn’t he die at the hands of super-villain Professor Moriarty, but he has gotten himself involved in an investigation of an elaborate plot to transport opium throughout Europe involving Moriarty, Chinese drug suppliers, Japan’s diplomatic corps, and the Japanese mob, the Yakuza. It is a plot that Watson himself describes as “bewildering in its complexity.”
One day, out of the blue, when for two years he had thought Holmes dead, Watson gets a note in Holmes’s handwriting: “Watson, I need you. My violin, please. S. H.” Summoned, of course he comes, and with the good wishes of his wife, he embarks on a journey that will eventually catch him up with Holmes and take them by land and sea all through Southeast Asia as they make their way to Tokyo with important information for the Japanese government while trying to keep safe from Moriarty’s murderous minions.
Along the way Holmes and Watson deal with a locked-room murder, a suicide, and several attempts on their lives, and still take time to visit tourist attractions like Angkor Wat and Bodh Gaya. They visit with locals of note like Rabindranath Tagore and Jagadish Chandra Bose. Holmes even takes time out for some music lessons on local instruments while ridiculing Watson for wanting to move on with their mission with a bit more alacrity.
Murthy adds a humorous touch or two with some footnotes and a letter of complaint about an annoying, attractive young editor and her editorial advice, and he introduces each chapter with a few poetic lines, more often than not interesting in their own light, but rarely obviously clear in their relation to the chapter. The volume includes a very short poetic story, “The Ghosts of Music,” attributed to a Japanese author, Akira Yamashita, introduced as a character near the end of the novel. The story is perhaps one of the most interesting part of the book.
Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan is the first in what is set to become a new series. And while it isn’t a disaster, and may well find an audience among those ever hungry for new Holmes stories, as far as this reader is concerned, my preference would be to reread The Sign of the Four.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1464203636][amazon template=iframe image&asin=161218412X]