As a “traditional” Sherlockian, whose own writing strays no farther from the canon than does Baring-Gould’s, I found Canadian author Allison Osborne’s new book (the first of five projected “Holmes and Co.” mysteries) a very different take. Even so, it was an enjoyable and rewarding read. The novel’s heroine is Irene Holmes. Yes, she is the Great Detective’s daughter, but Ms. Osborne does not tell us who her mother was. (Surely, Irene’s illustrious namesake could not have borne a child who is “almost thirty” in 1944.) Nor can her father aid us here, for in old age Holmes’s great mind has deteriorated, and he does not appear. We do learn that he and Watson raised Irene in Baker Street, long after I thought they had departed. Presumably, Victory Red’s successor novels will flesh out Irene’s history.
Having begun her career during World War II, Irene’s first important postwar case begins like A Study in Scarlet: a dead body in an empty house, a word of German scrawled upon a wall. The original story’s main characters appear in modern dress—Miss Hudson, Eddy Lestrade, Thom Gregory, and (of course) Dr. Joe (!) Watson—but all vary from their Doppelgängers sufficiently to keep the novel fresh. Ms. Osborne adopts a breezy, modern style appropriate to the 1940s: the era (after all) of Nero Wolfe, not Sherlock Holmes. She is at ease with her characters, and Irene’s interactions with Joe and Eddy are especially well done. As in A Study in Scarlet, the professional and consulting detectives work on different lines, solving a case that originates not in “the Great Alkali Plain” (thank God!) but in a particularly grim aspect of the war. It is no accident that Joe Watson, like his predecessor John, still suffers from PTSD. All comes out well in the end, of course. We leave Irene and Joe together at 221B, having established a successful partnership and a friendship that may—or may not—lead to something more. (I have a preference here, but as Ms. Osborne has already published her second book, I shall not presume to advise her.)
A Study in Victory Red occasionally reads like a first novel, including the odd grammatical typo or error of historical detail. (References to “the trenches,” for example, are fine for World War I, less so for World War II.) Such minor flaws are eminently fixable, and overall Ms. Osborne has made an extremely promising debut. I look forward to reading many more of Irene and Joe’s adventures.
A Study in Victory Red is available from all good bookstores including: