For his second novel sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, Anthony Horowitz has dispensed with the great detective entirely, choosing to set his narrative during the time that would later be known as The Great Hiatus. Yes, Sherlock Holmes, as far as the public knows, is dead, having tumbled over the Reichenbach Falls with his mortal enemy in his grasp. Dr. John Watson is also absent from the events of this story.
Instead our narrator is one Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton agent from New York tracking down an American master criminal with designs on taking over Professor Moriarty’s empire and creating a transatlantic criminal syndicate. Learning of the Professor’s untimely death he rushes off to Switzerland only to run into Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, whom devoted Holmesians will recognize from The Sign of the Four as yet another determined but unimaginative policeman. In Horowitz’s telling, Jones has channeled his shame at being exposed by Dr. Watson’s story into becoming as great a detective as Holmes. Indeed, at their first encounter Jones astounds Chase with a point-by-point deduction of his habits, background and personality traits much in the way Holmes would have done.
Examining Moriarty’s corpse the two men find a coded message setting up a meeting between the professor and Clarence Devereux, the American aspirant. Sending Chase in his place sets off a series of events which quickly include a series of ghastly murders and a bombing at Scotland Yard itself. As Jones and Chase pursue the unknown and unseen Devereux, their lives are constantly in danger.
Unfortunately, this inherently dramatic scenario does not really live up to its potential on page. The mystery behind the killings is never really developed. Instead, we get page after page on the burgeoning friendship between Jones and Chase. The final solution is also a bit of a cheat, even if the reader sees it coming. Overall, a fairly dispiriting work, that fails to justify the Conan Doyle imprimatur. The ending, with its unresolved threads seems to portend a sequel, but I find it hard to imagine myself returning to Horowitz’s world.