Review by: Mark Palm
As I said in a previous review, I am an unadulterated Sherlockian. After the Canon, and any number of tributes, pastiches and homages, there are books about Holme's relatives, a particularly good series that I reviewed featured the Detective's niece, two feature films, and two television series. One would think that there possibly couldn't be any new change that one could ring upon the subject. One would be wrong. An author with the stunningly English name of Vaughn Entwistle has started a series called The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the first volume is The Revenant of Thraxton Hall.
The novel starts, not surprisingly, with Arthur Conan Doyle, and it is one of the most important years in his life. His beloved wife Louise is dying of tuberculosis and Doyle is commonly called the Most Hated Man in London because he has just written and published The Final Problem, wherein Holmes dies after plunging over the Reichenbach Falls. If this isn't enough he receives an invitation to the author of the Holmes stories from an unknown woman. When Doyle meets her, she tells him that she is a psychic medium and that she has foretold her own death, and that only the Scottish author can save her life. Also she is mysterious, young, and beautiful. Could any Victorian gentleman resist?
Doyle tries. His wife is dying, and he is a busy man, but his friend, Oscar Wilde, admirably but oddly filling in for Watson, convinces his friend that it is his duty, and that it should be damn entertaining. And it is. Mr. Entwistle does a fine job of putting Doyle into the role of Holmes, showing the similarities and differences between the author and his most famous creation. In a fine touch he has Holmes appear to Doyle in dream-like visions where he tweaks the Scotsman for his lack of detective skills.
Doyle is asked to join the Society for Psychical Research, and soon afterwards, with Wilde in tow, he is off to the countryside to delve into a case at Thraxton Manor, whose owner is Lady Hope Thraxton, the same medium who contacted him earlier.
At the gloomy manor we meet a varied cast of characters, many based on true historical personages, and the mysteries begin. Soon after, so do the deaths. The story is suitably creepy, and takes several unexpected twists, and Mr. Entwistle gives us all the plot devices that we expect, and several that we don't. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the way that Mr. Entwistle doesn’t slavishly follow the rules of most of the pastiches, but instead gives us a creepy, surprising and rather moving look at Arthur Conan Doyle. The thrills and chills work too. Having Oscar Wilde as Doyle's sidekick is a stroke of genius, and Mr. Entwistle takes full advantage of it. And keep an eye peeled for Wilde's companion, who is a fascinating character deftly realized. This is a very good thriller, spooky and smart, and as I said before, often moving. I am looking forward to volume two.