Written by George Mann — Titan Books has amassed a very impressive line-up of books for Sherlock Holmes devotees who enjoy reading what authors since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have done with the character. Recently, Titan has been adding new novels from the pens of up-and-coming writers, many of whom work on the borders between crime fiction, sci-fi and fantasy. In The Will of the Dead, George Mann takes the opportunity to bring in a character from his own Newbury & Hobbes series, Inspector Charles Bainbridge. We reviewed his most recent novel The Executioner’s Heart, and since both series are set in Victorian London, the introduction of Bainbridge doesn’t feel in any way forced.
In The Will of the Dead, Holmes and Watson are engaged by a young man called Peter Maugham. Peter and his three cousins – Oswald, Annabel, and Joseph – have all been supported by their rich, elderly uncle, Tobias. They were all expecting to inherit a quarter of his estate upon his death, which would be sufficient to provide for them for the remainder of their lives. Tobias has unexpectedly died, the victim of an apparent accident, having fallen down the stairs during the night whilst in search of a late drink.
Their old uncle was an eccentric individual who, whilst more than happy to provide for his family, had refused to allow his solicitor, Mr Edwards, to keep a copy of his will. The only known copy was kept in Tobias’ study and it is now missing. If the will cannot be found then the eldest cousin, Joseph, will inherit everything and the remaining three will be destitute. Shortly after Holmes accepts the case, a mysterious German man called Hans Gerber begins to terrorise the family, visiting at odd times and threatening them. To complicate matters, he claims to be the rightful heir.
Meanwhile, from the police point of view, Inspector Bainbridge is under pressure from his boss to close the case as an accident and concentrate on what have become known as The Iron Man robberies. Four armoured men – apparently unstoppable automatons – have been invading the homes of London’s wealthy citizens and stealing their jewellery. So far no-one has been hurt but it can’t be long before that changes. Indeed, Bainbridge himself is ambushed whilst walking home one night and is lucky to escape with his life. He would be glad of any help he can get but Holmes is curiously disinterested, leaving Watson to assist however he can.
Mann clearly knows his Holmes, knows what works and sticks to it. This is no reinvention of the character, and the book is all the better for it. The solution to the case is a clever nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. However, I finished feeling slightly disappointed. The story is a little too brief, and a little too simplistic. It isn’t as satisfying as his own Newbury & Hobbes series, and perhaps the author didn’t feel as personally involved with Holmes and Watson as he does with his own creations.
Still, The Will of the Dead is a pleasant diversion and the inclusion of a Newbury & Hobbes short story, The Hambleton Affair, adds some extra value.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars