One of the best things to come out of the release of the Sherlock Holmes movie last year was the flooding of the more contemporary book markets with innumerable Holmesian pastiches. Many of them are re-releases and some are of questionable quality. Either way, I have found myself reading a quick succession of releases especially from Titan Books who have cobbled together a motley collection of Holmes stories.
This time round it is The Stalwart Companions by H. Paul Jeffers. The little twist in the presentation of this story is that it is set pre-Watson and is narrated by the future President of America Theodore Roosevelt. Jeffers puts Roosevelt firmly in the role as Holmes’ Boswell in this story and I am afraid really doesn’t do much to differentiate the perspectives between Watson and Roosevelt. The same utterances of amazement at Holmes’ deductions are made and the indefatigability of loyalty between the two men shines through. Where I can forgive Jeffers on this point is he is seemingly an expert in Roosevelt and thus it could be his presentation of Roosevelt’s character is likely to be more factual than fiction.
The adventure is based in New York and Holmes, who has gotten to know Roosevelt through correspondence initiated by the American on the back of Holmes’ ash monograph, which then goes on to form the basis of his most pertinent deductions – some of which are rather tenuous. The best example being that Holmes deduces two different men as having been in a room because of two different types of ash being present. Now, perhaps a man could have smoked two different cigarettes, or indeed, perhaps the second had been there from a previous visitor. This was a pivotal moment in the book and the gap in the story was gaping – which is an accusation that can be leveled at a whole host of Holmes stories, but particularly here.
Overall the narrative is fast-paced and enlightening, Jeffers excels at overlaying a presidential assassination plot into the fictional account therein, before then tying this into a future seismic event in American history.
However, where the story really falls down is in the ending. Without putting spoilers out there, Holmes’ meek acceptance of the outcome is far from fitting from a man with such an unrelenting personality. It leaves the reader feeling somewhat cheated and whilst I could see what Jeffers was trying to achieve, I have closed the book with a frown. 3/10.