"With this “fourth and final” instalment, A.S. Croyle brings to a close her saga of the brief romance, and longer detective partnership, of the youthful Sherlock Holmes and Dr. “Poppy” Stamford, a brilliant, assertive, but vulnerable young women seeking entry into the exclusively male, misogynistic world of Victorian medicine. Along the way (as recounted in When the Song of the Angels is Stilled), she met and fell in love with the budding detective, who has often been accounted a notable misogynist in his own right. Ms. Coyle’s achievement was not only to create in Poppy Stamford a convincing “first love” for Sherlock Holmes, but to reveal a side of Holmes himself that few of us (and certainly not Conan Doyle) realized was there.
Yet, Croyle was wise enough not to go too far, for Sherlock quickly abandoned the emotional distraction of romance in order to devote himself exclusively to The Science of Deduction. Equally wisely, if not happily, Poppy accepted his decision; and they continued their crime-solving partnership in The Bird and the Buddha and The Case of the Swan in the Fog.
This final case (for the “three species” in the title are connected) has its origins in the American Civil War and anticipates several events and characters Holmes will encounter later on in his career. It is a pleasure to report that the last “Before Watson” novel is the best-written and most tightly plotted of the four. Croyle does well by the memorable characters she created (Poppy has an important, moving scene with Uncle Ormond), and she handles the novel’s ending flawlessly.
Holmes’s “one friend” and Poppy’s rejected suitor, Victor Trevor, returns to resolve the book’s underlying issues in a satisfying way. It was with regret that I turned the last page of The Case of the Three Species, knowing that Sherlock and Poppy had solved their final case together, but fully understanding the young man whom Poppy’s brother introduces to a former army surgeon at the novel’s end.
Their detective partnership, we know, went on to literary immortality. As for Sherlock Holmes’ first love, there are hints in Croyle’s epilogue that Dr. Stamford retained an interest in deduction during her long medical career in India. If so, at least one reader will await with hope an entire new series of “After Watson” novels."
Thomas A Turley
In the fourth and final book in the Before Watson series, Sherlock Holmes and his companion and assistant, Dr. Poppy Stamford, embark on their greatest adventure yet. They are charged with solving not one case but three. One involves bogus charges against Poppy's former stable boy. The second is their attempt to stop a wave of crime perpetrated by the Elephant Gang, the famous and ruthless girls' gang that terrorized London in the nineteenth century. The third is an investigation into who burglarized the brothel owned by Maggie May, a mysterious woman with a keen mind and a treasure trove of secrets. During this time, Poppy also faces great losses and the promise of a new life--if she can bring herself to give up her quest to capture Sherlock's intransigent heart.