Strangely Workman asked me to review her second book. I still wonder why exactly but I agreed to do so.
To begin with, and this will not surprise her, Workman’s book has not changed my opinion on crossover works. However, in the spirit of the exercise, I shall do my best to review her latest story as objectively as possible.In brief, this story brings Holmes, Watson and Erik (aka the Phantom) into contact with Dr Henry Jekyll and, ultimately, his infamous alter-ego. Erik brings the strange conduct of Jekyll to Holmes’s notice and thus the investigation begins. It is difficult to say more without giving away the plot so I shall launch into the technical aspects of the review.
The biggest problem with Workman’s first book was that it was a book in which Holmes and Watson were clearly the guest characters. In other words it was, first and foremost, a book about the Phantom. Her new book corrects this problem. Henry Jekyll is clearly the guest in a book that is primarily a Sherlock Holmes story.Workman repeats her previous device of moving between the heads of her characters. We have sections from the perspective of Holmes, Watson, Erik and Jekyll. Again, in one or two areas, it is not immediately apparent whose head we are in but we are not left in doubt for too long. So this is an area that has greatly improved but where work is still needed.
The Americanisms were an issue with the first book but they are greatly reduced this time round. The word "trousers" is used instead of "pants" but there are still a large number of words spelt the American way. "Favor" instead of "favour" being an obvious one. As I said before, this would be acceptable for an American character but when all the characters, aside from Erik, are British you would expect British spelling. However this can be put to one side.Most of the things that caught my attention were minor. An example being that at one point the novel Frankenstein is described as a relatively recent work when, assuming events to be taking place in the late 1880s onwards, Mary Shelly’s novel would be at least sixty years old.
However, for me, the biggest problem with the story is Erik the Phantom. He is too clever and renders Watson – as a partner - almost unnecessary. Conan Doyle recognised that where he introduced characters as clever as Holmes (Moriarty, Mycroft etc) he needed to keep their appearances to a minimum. He knew that if this was not done Sherlock Holmes would seem less special and less extraordinary. Workman, I feel, has lost sight of this. Erik is around too much (usually at Watson's expense) and appears sometimes to be ahead of Holmes. Also there are occasions where Erik and Holmes know what the other is thinking so well that there is no need for them to explain ideas and plans. This leaves Watson and, by extension, the reader, in the dark.
Conan Doyle partly designed Watson to be the vehicle through which Holmes’s thoughts and reasoning are conveyed to the reader. Erik’s presence and intelligence mean that this vehicle is insufficiently used. I realise that Workman means to have Erik as an on-going character but she really needs to reduce his appearances and put Watson back more squarely as Holmes’s principal partner and confidant. Not only is this simply right and proper it would also aid the reader as Holmes can then resume his habit of explaining his reasoning to us via the good doctor. To put it another way, Erik needs to be the number three character in this triumvirate. Throughout this book he is number two and pushes Watson into an undeserved third place. This dilutes the action for the reader as much as it does for Watson.
All in all this is a great improvement on the first story and if the next improves as much again fans of such crossover pastiches will be in for a treat.