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Review: The Devil's Due by Bonnie MacBird

The Devil's Due is Bonnie MacBird's third Sherlock Holmes novel and I say up front that it is the best so far.


It takes place in 1890, which is an interesting time to pick. According to some chronologies, this places the story some nine (or so) years into the Holmes/Watson partnership so it is interesting that Bonnie MacBird paints a picture of a Holmes who is still building his relationship, as a force for good, with both the police and public. In a parallel, that I'm certain is intentional, the press is responsible for portraying Holmes as almost the Devil himself. This leads to some portions of the public treating Holmes with nothing short of contempt. You could say that, in this novel, Holmes is a walking version of Brexit - bringing out the extremes of opinion that we in the UK are used to seeing on that subject. As a result of this we are given a Holmes who is quite often physically and, occasionally, psychologically vulnerable and thus dependent on his trusty Watson in the way a pensioner might be on their walking stick. Watson is no mere appendage in this book.

Into this setting comes a series of murders. They have two obvious features; firstly that wealthy and influential philanthropists are being killed and, secondly, they are being killed in alphabetical order.

The latter concept has been done before, most notably by Agatha Christie in The ABC Murders, but that is as far as the similarity goes. The murders are suitably gruesome and inventive and the overall tone is dark which pleased me greatly. Furthermore, the events are so well constructed that we see Holmes make some very well thought out deductions. This may seem standard but it is surprising how often decent scenes of deduction are absent from Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

We are taken to all areas of London during the course of the story. We go from 221B to the houses of Mayfair, where Holmes and Watson rub shoulders with the wealthy and powerful, to the docks of the East End where they try not to rub shoulders too often with anyone.

We also see our fair share of Canonical characters alongside original characters. Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes are the principals among the former. Unlike many an inferior pastiche they are not over or inappropriately used. Speaking of Mycroft, it is just as well that this story takes place after The Greek Interpreter or there might have been some chronological knots to untangle (well, we could've always blamed Watson).

Pleasingly, when it comes to the author's original characters, the story introduces us to strong female players, amongst whom is, in all but name, a female irregular who plays a very important part in events and is most certainly not window dressing. In fact I would go so far as to say that I hope this particular character features in future stories.

Speaking more generally, it's always a challenge to make novel-length Sherlock Holmes stories which is why Conan Doyle did it so rarely. Holmes tended to suit the short-story format better. Bonnie MacBird is one of those writers who can produce a novel that is not, unlike so many, a short-story concept stretched out.

I am forced to conclude in the way I started. This is Bonnie MacBird's best Holmes novel so far and cements her, as one of the best pastiche authors out there. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very hard on pastiches and don't tend to buy or read them because I've been so often disappointed.

This did not disappoint. Get it as soon as you can.



Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here
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1 comment:

  1. Solid review, Alistair.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the book and echo many of your sentiments.

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