In this enjoyable pastiche from Gilbert (The Illumination of Sherlock Holmes), Menachem Goldman, a shady character involved in London’s jewelry market, consults the Baker Street sleuth after learning of “a huge and hitherto unknown treasure” found in the Aegean Sea. Since the divers who made the discovery are dead, Goldman doesn’t know the treasure’s precise location, and he asks Holmes to use his resources to find it. The detective agrees, his interest piqued by the news that the divers were killed by a master criminal who aspires to be a poison king in the mold of first-century BCE Pontic king Mithradates, reputed to have made himself immune to most toxins by ingesting them. The battle of wits between Holmes and this worthy adversary is suspenseful, though there’s more emphasis on action rather than deduction. Gilbert occasionally indulges in purple prose (“Watson, we must guard against this fiend with such vigilance as we have never employed before!”), but he generally does a solid job of capturing Dr. Watson’s cadences and language. Sherlockians will be intrigued, even though this doesn’t represent Gilbert at his best.
Paul Gilbert has long been recognized by those in the know as one of those pasticheurs who have tapped into Watson’s voice, writing stories about the True Sherlock Holmes. His initial short story collections and novels were always a pleasure to read, and now it’s even easier to find them since he’s become associated with the premiere Sherlockian publisher, MX. (One can only hope that his previous volumes will be reprinted with MX to make his earlier works more accessible.
In addition to his efforts in recent years writing short stories for anthologies such as “The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories”, Mr. Gilbert write a most-interesting trilogy of novels. As he explains in the foreword to this book, he’d intended to take a break for a while – but then he had an idea. (More likely, Watson started whispering to him and would not be denied.) The result is “The Treasure of the Poison King”.
The book opens in Fall 1901 with the discovery of a most curious historical item. While I do take some issue with Mr. Gilbert’s chronology – specifically having Watson already married to his third wife before their actual marriage occurred in 1902 – it’s a most interesting case that begins innocently enough and spirals to a most satisfying conclusion. It will be very interesting to see what tales Watson tells us by way of Mr. Gilbert. As usual, I’ll be first in line.
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