The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D.
by Nicholas Meyer
Expected publication date October 15, 2019, by Minotaur Books
A good pastiche is one that captures the spirit of the material it is based upon and then adds to it, as writers like Jo Baker did with her novel, Longbourn (based on Pride and Prejudice), or Tom Stoppard did with his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (based upon Hamlet). Screenwriter, novelist, and noted Holmes-enthusiast Nicholas Meyer likes to take this one step further with his Sherlock Holmes novels by introducing a framing story, wherein he is given access to a ‘long lost journal’ purportedly written by Sherlock Holmes’s friend and biographer, John Watson, and proceeds to transcribe and publish the story he found in said lost journal.
In this story, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, we find an aging Sherlock Holmes ruminating on the new century (it’s 1905) and wondering if there will be a place for him in the new world unfolding before him. There no longer seem to be any oddball crimes or baffling murders that once where the aging detective’s lifeblood. Now, the cases he might solve seem smaller and less important as the world with its newer faster technologies develops. But before Holmes can hang up his hat for good, his brother Mycroft summons him– and Watson, too, by default– to investigate a top-secret document found on the body of an English spy who was murdered and then left in the Thames. Though Holmes is skeptical of the matter at first, he wades deeper into the case as the stakes rise, for if the documents are true, a secret society is making plans to upset the governments of the world in a bid for global domination.
Soon, Holmes and Watson are on the fabled Orient Express in the company of a beautiful but mysterious woman to find the source of the secret documents and discover once and for all their true nature and the identity of those behind their creation. Along the way, Holmes and Watson speak with a variety of experts and ruminate on the changes going on around them, and what that could mean for the future of England.
“In the silence that followed, I attempted to digest so much that had been said. A revolution was taking place half a world away. Events were unfolding that, if the nearsighted chemist enjoying Holmes’s sherry was correct, could conceivably drag the rest of Europe into a conflagration in which massive quantities of British gunpowder might well be required.”
With three previous Holmes pastiche novels and other Holmesian studies to his name, Meyer has experience with the casebooks of Sherlock Holmes, and he uses that knowledge and combines it with his knowledge of scriptwriting to create a story that feels like it really could have been a lost journal that was set aside for years, then lost and found again. The Victorian wordings and the verbal sparring between Holmes and Watson feel perfectly natural, as do the deductions and the one-upmanship forever going on between Holmes and his elder brother Mycroft. If there is a fault in Meyer’s writing, it could only be that the allusions to conspiracy theories and fake news are a little on the nose. Or maybe they aren’t, as Mycroft points out that people have always been willing to believe stories that cast the ‘Other’ in a horrendous light, no matter how outlandish those stories may be. And if some of Meyer’s on-point notes hit close to home, they should serve to remind the reader that hate never dies out completely, and one must always be seeking the truth, no matter how convenient the lie may be.
In The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, Nicholas Meyer once again delivers a thrilling tale of Holmes’s exploits in a story that feels like it could have come from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own imagination. It is a thoroughly absorbing story that engages the imagination from cover to cover and leaves one thinking once again of how Sherlock Homes still relates to us more than a century after his first appearance.
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books for providing me with a free eGalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book.