Bingo 19 (Cannonballer Says)
On 8/7/19, Cannonballer Leedock posted a review for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. It sounded interesting and got a 5-star review, so I tracked it down.
It is most definitely a Sherlock Holmes inspired book, but also very much its own thing. Everything is told by an older John, looking back on his past. The basic gist of the beginning of the mystery is similar to Holmes, with a medical type (alchemist) who has had to leave the Army (Company of Strangers battling the “existential peril presented by the forces of the Empress of Nothing”) and arrives in the city (of Khelathra-Ven) in need of a roommate. Captain John Wyndham responds to an ad in the paper and meet Shaharazad Haas a brilliant yet self-admittedly crazy and utterly disreputable mystical/supernatural detective. She draws John into a case, and off they go.
The world here is existentially strange, sort of fantasy and/or sci-fi but nothing is ever concrete or developed enough to really get a grasp of the locations. The investigation is incredibly episodic, featuring the looking into of one suspect, getting into and out of massive trouble, and then repeat several times. The incidents involve John sneaking into a literary party, fights sky pirates, almost seduced by a group of vampires, something about mad or otherwise indeterminate gods, hits a shark, arrested multiple times, and at some point during one of the last arrests, forced to escape through his dreams.
There were a lot of good entertaining snarky moments (Haas is the snark, John her straight man), and several hints about things that we don’t get to see. Those moments and trying to find other clues and guess, like who is John’s future husband, what happened to Haas since the last time they saw each other, and how John mentions he’s only broken his word to Haas 4 times, of which he has just related the first one. Tidbits like this are the best part of the whole novel, and it’s too bad there aren’t more.
The mystery itself is pretty incidental, and the grand reveal is not quite as impressive as it could have been since it’s one of those cases where all suspects are cleared at one point, but then suddenly there is a twist never before mentioned or really even alluded to. But that’s ok since the mystery doesn’t even really seem to be the point of the story anyways; this is about the antics and interactions of the characters.
The one big downfall for me was that John as a narrator had some issues that made getting into this harder than it needed to be, and also less witty than it could have been. John often makes remarks about things his editor told him with which he does not agree or does not quite understand about telling the story, and also when he is presenting some dialogue, the wording used is just too colorful for him to even try to describe. Once he gets over the latter enough to be humorously euphemistic about some of the expressions used by other characters, things improve. And he has one brilliant scene with a member of the Myrmidons (representing Scotland Yard) in which he does a Holmes-like read on the officer who clearly has some sort of chip on her shoulder and totally deserves it. For that alone I forgive him being too intrusive as a narrator.