Review: What Child Is This? by Bonnie MacBird

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any when posts are so intermittent) will know that I have been an admirer of Bonnie MacBird's pastiches from the start. For me, this is a never-ending surprise as I have hitherto not been a big reader or admirer of pastiche.

In this book, MacBird skilfully makes a novel by weaving two cases together. The first, and secondary, is the disappearance of the son of a minor aristocrat whose father engages Holmes to look into the matter. The second, and principal, is the attempted kidnap of a child from his mother in the middle of London's West End at Christmas. An attempt foiled by Holmes himself.

One of these cases takes us into the very topical subject of self-identification, the other takes us into the very Victorian subjects of poverty, workhouses, and child-trafficking; themes that are just as relevant today as they were then. MacBird effectively evokes the split personality of Victorian London by painting, on the one hand, a picture of an almost Dickensian Christmas of food, drink and gifts in the West End. On the other, she hangs a picture of an equally Dickensian East End of starvation, drug abuse, and child neglect. The contrast between the cases Holmes investigates and one of the supposedly happiest times of the year is a stark one. Something that, in the Canon, we only saw in The Blue Carbuncle.

Holmes is most interested in the case which, on the face of it, offers him the least reward, and is rather dismissive of the other opting to adopt a more Mycroftian approach and send one of his irregulars to do the legwork for him. This is in character and adds to authenticity of MacBird's tale.

Many pastiche authors drift from the path that Conan Doyle laid down. The only drifting this book does is to deal with subjects that Conan Doyle himself was unlikely to touch. However, it is done in such a way that you won't necessarily notice the drift until sometime after it has taken place (if at all.)

No one can surpass Conan Doyle at his best, but a select few pastiche writers get close enough that they can almost reach out and touch the master. Bonnie MacBird is one of those writers that, in my opinion, achieves this consistently. If you need a Holmes story for Christmas (and who doesn't?) get hold of this immediately.

Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here