Review: Art in the Blood

Now I don't normally review pastiche but I have made an exception.

I am fairly well known for avoiding pastiche and being critical of it. This is purely and simply because I have been disappointed again and again by what is produced today.

A pastiche (and I'm using this as an umbrella term for homage too) can fail due to poor grammar/spelling (a far too common occurrence), a lack of authenticity (non Victorian language, etc.) or just a downright rubbish plot and/or characterization.

I think I am strict because I was spoiled at the beginning. I read some good ones and they simply set the bar too high for the dross that has largely followed. As a result, I avoided reading, much less reviewing, pastiche. I made an exception for The House of Silk and wished that I hadn't (if I was a teacher I'd have written must try harder on it).

I therefore picked up Bonnie MacBird's book with a great degree of nervousness.

So what do we have?

We basically have a mystery with three strands...a missing statue, a missing aristocratic child, and some worrying child deaths. The action takes us from London to Paris to London to Lancashire and so on.

Really amateur pastiche writers shoe-horn in as many well known characters from the original stories as they can in a vain attempt to increase their story's authenticity. As a rule of thumb, the more that are crammed in, the worse the story will be. Here we have Holmes and Watson (naturally); but we also have Mycroft, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson. The latter two are little more than cameos.

This was reassuring. A few names - yes; but many barely used and, importantly, no Moriarty lurking in the shadows. So far so good.

The action moves at a pace and takes you with it. True, there are no breathtaking feats of deduction from Holmes but, aside from this, I found the story's style and Watsonian voice very close to the original (but that's a matter of personal preference).

My only criticism is that one aspect to the crimes is one that Conan Doyle would never have written and his contemporary audience would not have accepted. Like Horowitz, we have a crime more suited to modern audiences. By that I don't mean it is one we relish but one, alas, that we've grown accustomed to hearing and reading about.

But I guess we need to ask ourselves if a modern audience really wants to read about Victorian style crimes. Well of course they do or the original Canon would be long out of print but perhaps from a modern writer the expectations are different - I really don't know.

All the above said, this book has made me feel better about contemporary pastiche and for that Bonnie MacBird gets my thanks.

For me this is the best pastiche since The Seven Per-cent Solution and that is bar none.

Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. Thanks for your review! Have pre-ordered ebook as soon as I read The Well-Read Sherlockian's review and yours confirms my decision.

    Although the aspect of crime you hint at really, really has nothing to do in a Victorian milieu, I think. I absolutely failed to see the crime in House of Silk as with all the abuse involved the far greater crime seemed for me to be that these children were left alone in the streets of London in the first place. As no one seemed to cry out about that I doubt anyone had made a big to do about the other.

  2. Have finished "Art" by now. Overall I liked it quite well (and thought it was definitely far better than the Mycroft Holmes book I couldn't even finish because it made me nod off after a few pages), I just don't see why they had to beat Holmes up so much. It read almost like a hurt/comfort fan fic to me with lots of hurt and little comfort.