Orlando Pearson has written a number of Holmes short stories as part of his “The Redacted Sherlock Holmes” series – some set in the correct chronological time period, and others in a never-land where Holmes and Watson are transplanted to different eras, regardless of their birth-dates or ages, and sometimes involved in events that would have occurred after they were very old or even dead. This volume, “Dark Arts, Dark Acts”, is Pearson’s first Holmes novel, and it’s one of the latter-type stories, putting Holmes and Watson in 1940.
The story opens with an explanation from Watson stating that he is 94 in 1947 – placing his birth in 1852. (In fact, he was born in 1852.) He goes on to recall a case in 1940, when Britain had been involved in World War II for a little over a year – and over a year before the United States would be directly drawn in. The story has a most unique plot: As part of a prisoner swap, Holmes and Watson travel to Berlin – during wartime – to work out a high-level prisoner swap. While there, as part of the price of success, Holmes is tasked by the Germans with investigating a series of gruesome murders.
The book is quite interesting, but I could never get around the idea of Holmes and Watson being the protagonists. In 1940, Holmes would have been in his mid-eighties, and Watson died in 1929. Thus, I did what I always do when encountering this type of story which shifts Holmes and Watson into World War II: I simply change the names in my head from Holmes and Watson to Solar Pons and Dr. Parker, who would have been in their early sixties during that war. This is based on the assumption that the literary agent who prepared the document for publication – in this case Mr. Pearson – figured that readers would be more familiar with Holmes and Watson rather than Pons and Parker, and altered the names. (This explanation is particularly effective when watching a few of the Basil Rathbone Holmes films that are inarguably set in World War II.)
The action spirals in this story, and it’s interesting to see just how involved Solar Pons and Dr. Parker were as the influenced history at important moments.
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It has taken over eighty years, but at long last the British government’s embargo on reporting this slice of diplomatic history has been lifted.
It was in November 1940, that a senior minister at the British Foreign Office in blacked-out London commissioned Holmes and Watson to go to Berlin negotiate a prisoner of war swap with the German high-command.
And the price demanded by Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Göbbels, for any prisoner release? That the two work with the Berlin police to capture a serial killer who is stalking the city’s railway network.
But is Holmes being entirely honest with Watson about why the Foreign Office wants the pair to conduct an investigation which can only help the Nozi war-effort? And what else might Holmes’s investigation of the German railway network uncover? And how can the United States be persuaded to join the war on the British side?
An account of real events in London, Berlin, and Moscow in the years 1940 and 1941 which still shape the present.
And the reader may feel hand of both Mycroft Holmes and Nicolo Machiavelli behind the statecraft on display.