Written by Stuart Douglas — The year is 1896 and Holmes and Watson are again sharing rooms at Baker Street. The pair are woken up in the night by Inspector Lestrade. A portrait of Lord Salisbury in the National Gallery has been vandalised and the culprit, a member of the republican Brotherhood of Ireland, has been caught. He refuses to talk other than to threaten that blood will be spilt, and the government is worried this is just a prelude to a more serious terrorist act. Lestrade wants Holmes to interview his prisoner.
After a classic piece of deduction Holmes is able to identify the man but cannot trick him into revealing his plans. Watson returns to the scene of the crime to see if any details have been missed by the police, while Holmes dons a disguise in an attempt to infiltrate the revolutionary activists within London’s slums. The only clue Watson discovers is that another painting damaged in the struggle to capture the vandal is a clumsy forgery. Miss Rhodes, the beautiful curator – and soon to be object of Watson’s romantic dreams – is adamant that the portrait she acquired from the current down-on-his-luck squire of Hamblin Hall was genuine.
Meanwhile Holmes has done little better. The Brotherhood appears to be no more than a talking shop. The investigation stalls until, in a bizarre incident, another suspect is caught at the National Gallery trying to return the original painting. Rather than allow himself to be caught the thief, who is Chinese, poisons himself. An interview is arranged by Holmes with the Lord of Strange Deaths, the elderly ruler of all Chinese immigrants in the Limehouse district. He denies any involvement in the mystery, and tells Holmes that the thief had left his employ to work for a mysterious criminal known only as The Albino, who is known to be seeking something referred to as England’s Treasure. Holmes is inclined to believe the old man since he works only for the good of China and has no interest in personal financial gain.
The duo visit Hamblin Hall and discover its current resident has been selling off art to keep afloat. They discover a letter from a man Holmes recognises as a criminal requesting to buy a painting. When they return to London to question the man they discover he is being held at Scotland Yard on an affray charge. They arrive at the Yard to find chaos. Several guards have been assaulted and the prisoner has been rescued. Following the trail, they catch up with the gang, which is led by a tall, extravagantly dressed toff with white hair. Most of the gang die, but the leader, who must surely be The Albino, escapes. Holmes must now match wits with a villain every bit as ingenious as Moriarty, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Titan Books has published numerous Holmes pastiches, of which we’ve reviewed The Spirit Box, Gods of War, The Stuff of Nightmares and Encounters of Sherlock Holmes. Common to most of them is an attempt to play with the rules of genre, for example mixing in fantasy or science fiction elements. The Albino’s Treasure sits at the more traditional end of the spectrum with the exception being the insertion of this particular villain. Monsieur Zenith the Albino was an ambiguous criminal opponent of Sexton Blake’s. He was an elusive, almost romantic figure, addicted to opium and somewhat ambivalent about his crimes. Obverse Books, the small press run by Stuart Douglas, has published some new stories about the character, and The Metatemporal Detective, written by Michael Moorcock charts his life through the multiverses.
The Albino’s Treasure is perhaps a little too labyrinthine even for a Holmes tale, and while the pace is brisk, my interest did wander at times. Still, England’s Treasure makes for a nice MacGuffin, and Douglas replicates Conan Doyle’s style down to a tee.
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CFL Rating: 3 Stars