Sherlock Book Reviews - Sherlock Holmes - These Scattered Houses

Posted by Steve Emecz on

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London

“A previously untold adventure of the “Great Hiatus”. Holmes, travelling in the guise of Professor Keevan Sigerson, is being pursued across Europe by Moriarty’s henchmen. Narrowly escaping death for the umpteenth time, he resolves to return to London, but is forced instead to take passage to New York. Seriously injured, he finds his way to Poughkeepsie and takes refuge in the Vassar Women’s College, where he is soon embroiled in a mystery. The pace of this novel is well-judged. From the outset it is a gripping and colourful adventure with lots of action. Clear respect for the Canon is demonstrated in the many neat references and affectionate nods to the characters, stories and intrigues of the original texts, and some real-life characters, such as Harry Houdini and Samuel Morse, add further colour to the plot. The author demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of Poughkeepsie history and the significance of Vassar College. It provides a splendid backdrop to a fast-paced story told with great care and affection.”


Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen

Rarely does a pastiche capture so many elements of an original Sherlock Holmes story as Ms, Altabef’s These Scattered Houses. Written in the first person, we are privy to Holmes’ thought processes, which are also evident in his often poignant journal entries intended for Dr. Watson’s later use. These entries recall the use of a similar device successfully used by Bram Stoker in his acclaimed Dracula.

We encounter Holmes on the final leg of his three year hiatus, in the person of Sigerson, whose renowned exploits are published in the National Graphic magazine. He encounters several personages along the way who would be familiar to Sherlockians and Doyleans but who would also be of interest to any reader. They include a young Houdini and Murray, the man who saved Watson’s life in the Afghan War. 

The action is based in the bucolic upstate New York town of Poughkeepsie and in the new and innovative Vassar College for Women. Holmes has observed that “You [Dr. Watson] look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty, I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be hidden there.” This quote from The “Copper Beeches”, as noted by Ms. Altabef, is very much the case in this novel.

The women’s suffrage movement and the rights of people committed to lifetimes in barbaric insane asylums are addressed in this insightful book. Holmes’ befriending of a 12 year old prodigy sparks an engrossing story of pursuit and deliverance that is reminiscent of the one in The Sign of Four. Ms. Altabef succeeds dramatically in building a riveting climax to her tale. The commitment to historical accuracy and careful research for the novel, as well as the final reveal, are noted in an epilogue and selected bibliography by chapter at the end of the book.

In summary, I found this novel to be a most compelling read. I hope to see additional work by an outstanding and obviously dedicated and gifted writer, Ms. Gretchen Altabef.

Wendy Heyman-Marsaw, author - Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson’s Kitchen


Craig Stephen Copeland

"Of the hundreds of Sherlock Holmes pastiche mysteries available to the Sherlockian, very few can match this book for a depth of historical research, finely crafted sentences and paragraphs, and a heart-stopping thrill of a story. Ms. Altabef takes the reader on a journey during the great hiatus and brings Sherlock Holmes to New York state where he is led to investigate that horrifying world of the insane asylums of that day. The characters she creates--especially that of the child, Rachel--are distinct, colorful, and memorable. The plot builds through incident after dangerous incident, culminating with a frantic climax. A great read. Now, all we need is more like this from this very capable Sherlockian."

Craig Stephen Copland author of New Sherlock Holmes Mysteries


Harry DeMaio

Let us establish one fact immediately. Gretchen Altabef is a remarkably talented author. In These Scattered Houses, the first book in her Sherlock Holmes trilogy, she eschews the formulas that so often appear in Holmes pastiches and sets about creating a new format; a new locale; new characters; a new story line and most important, a new Holmes.

Seldom used in other books, Holmes is his own narrator in a tale that takes place during his three year post Reichenbach hiatus in the town of Poughkeepsie New York and the campus of Vassar College. I have earned my living for several years in that city and can attest that she has captured its Mid-Hudson character exactly. The story centers around the horrors of a state asylum for the insane and involves an extensive Italian family; college denizens; women suffragists; a precocious young girl; mad house denizens and a cast of evil doers.

Holmes in his role as Sigerson is not the traditional Sherlockian prototype at all but I will not spoil the story by elucidating further. The action moves along at a rapid pace. The characters alone make it very interesting and unusual. In short, this is a very worthwhile read. Enjoy it! 

Review from Harry DeMaio-Author of The Casebooks of Octavius Bear


Scattered Houses is available from:

Amazon USA      Barnes and Noble.

Amazon UK        Book Depository  (free worldwide shipping) 

Audio Book   

(first chapter of the audio free download)

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →