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Barefoot On Baker Street – A Novel of Sherlock Holmes Reviewed by The Ill Dressed Vagabond

18 Nov

“This is a powerful novel that makes great efforts to comply with the Canon.”

Philip K Jones, aka The Ill Dressed Vagabond is one of the USA’s leading Holmes reviewers and this week he delivers a detailed review of Barefoot on Baker Street by Charlotte Walters. The full review is below – and the highlight seems to be how Charlotte handles the main characters:

“The true wonder of the book is these three tormented men (Holmes, Moriarty and Mycroft) and their efforts to control their own lives that are seemingly beyond control.  The heroine is another wonder.  She grew up in Hell, survived and thrived.  She learned to care about others, to love and to function usefully in a world that has constantly tried to kill her since she was born.”

Barefoot on Baker Street is available from all good bookstores and in all formats including Amazon Kindle, iBooks (iPad and iPhone) and of course in large trade paperback. Charlotte has a wonderful blog (Barefootonbakerstreet) where recently she has reviewed all 56 of the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

“This is the story of an orphan girl born in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields Union Workhouse.  Her father was killed in an accident as he worked on the railways.  Her mother died in childbirth and she was raised in the Workhouse.  As she grew, she received 4 hours of education a day and worked at hard labor for the rest of the day.  As was common practice, at puberty she was forcibly raped by the School Master.  When he fell asleep afterward, she killed him, stole his money and set the room on fire.  She then escaped with a young boy, Luke, and ran free into Whitechapel.  Some years later, she became part of the Dean Street Gang, run by one Wiggens.  At age 16, she entered Sherlock Holmes’ study as one of his ‘irregulars,’ to be directed to search for the steam launch Aurora.  As they were leaving, Holmes detained her and told her to never again enter his house in disguise or with a weapon and sent her away.

After an argument with Wiggens over the future of the ‘gang,’ she was left with her childhood companion, Luke, to fend for herself.  Within a short time, she was recruited by a minion of Professor Moriarty.  She spent time working her way up in his organization and eventually was taken under his wing and given special training of several sorts.  He had her trained and groomed to become his ‘doorkeeper’ and chief assistant, as well as his wife. This situation continued for some time until she became pregnant.  She was determined to have the child, so Moriarty had her drugged and the fetus aborted.  From that time on, she was on the watch for a chance to leave his service.

A plot of Moriarty’s, involving a newly developed strain of the Black Death afforded an opportunity for her to escape him and his service.  She and Luke went to Sherlock and joined in his effort to bring down Moriarty.  With her help, the Plague plot was foiled and Holmes ran to the Continent with Watson, her and Luke to escape the Professor’s vengeance.  Eventually, the events at The Falls of the Reichenbach lost Holmes to her, so she shot the Professor who was crowing about his victory.  She then fainted and Watson took her back to the Englisher Hof to deal with her spontaneous abortion of Sherlock’s child.

The rest of the book covers events that followed the death of Sherlock.  Our heroine, called “Red,” helped save the widowed Dr. Watson from the bill collectors and worked with him to put his practice on a paying basis.  She and Watson went to Mycroft to tell him of Sherlock’s death and they all became friends and associates.  Watson’s practice grew and diversified and Red became busy and began to live again.  When Sherlock returned after the Great Hiatus, he arrived in the midst of a complex situation and had to deal with friends and kin who were angry and disappointed in him.

The story is, of course, much more complex than this short description.  The author has carefully depicted Moriarty, Sherlock and Mycroft as autistic savants.  Each have their own symptoms and ‘coping mechanisms,’ but all share similar attitudes to other people and toward ‘Red.’  She is the only other person who is truly ‘real’ to each of them.  They express their disabilities in different fashions and cope with them in differing ways.  The true wonder of the book is these three tormented men and their efforts to control their own lives that are seemingly beyond control.  The heroine is another wonder.  She grew up in Hell, survived and thrived.  She learned to care about others, to love and to function usefully in a world that has constantly tried to kill her since she was born.

This is a powerful novel that makes great efforts to comply with the Canon.  Places where it differs are clearly places where Dr. Watson would have ‘glossed over’ or omitted events, so that the book seems to fit the Canon well.  The narrative here is much more realistic than are the Canonical tales and the seamier side of London is brought home to the reader in many ugly details.”

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