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Review of Mrs. Hudson Takes the Stage

13 May

“ … a delightful entertainment with more than a dash of comedy … deftly juggles historical fact with fictional whodunnit … Mrs. Hudson Takes the Stage holds up in the … world of Sherlock Holmes … and deserves a wider audience.”-Wilmington StarNews

The game is afoot, but with a twist

By Ben Steelman For The StarNews

“Since retiring to Carolina Beach after a career as a psychologist and counselor, Barry S. Brown has devoted his life to setting things straight about Sherlock Holmes.

Brown’s thesis, as you might recall, is that Mrs. Hudson, the indefatigable housekeeper at 221-B Baker St., London, was the real brains of the operation.

She learned criminology and detection from the late Mr. Hudson, a career London police constable, as well as from reading the papers. But of course, no one would take a little old lady seriously in Victorian times, especially if she has a thick Cockney accent. So, she hired Holmes and Dr. Watson as the front men. They do the leg work on the cases, but she solves them.

Brown’s previous novels have taken the Baker Street team to New York and even to the first Olympic Games, in 1896. In “Mrs. Hudson Takes the Stage,” the sixth installment, they go behind the curtains of the London stage.

It’s 1901, and Mrs. Hudson and the crew are off to see a play – a new import from the colonies called “Sherlock Holmes,” starring the American matinee idol William Gillette.

(In fact, Gillette did tour London and the major British cities in 1902 in “Sherlock Holmes,” in which he starred and which he wrote with Sherlock’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. Rather like a Marvel superhero movie, the critics hated it, but the crowds went wild.) Gillette, by the way, is credited with creating the trademark Holmes profile with deerstalker hat and curved pipe – although some sources credit Sidney Paget, the artist who drew the illustrations for the Holmes stories in The Strand magazine.

Anyway, something goes wrong on opening night. Somebody stabs the wardrobe mistress to death backstage – a pretty, quiet woman who kept to herself. Holmes and Watson are called in by Gillette, who supposedly has been getting threatening letters.

Since Mrs. Hudson can sew, meanwhile, she steps into the breach – which gives her an excellent backstage view of what’s going on.

The murdered woman, of course, is not whom she appears to be, and the investigation leads off into the shadowy world of London anarchists – just about the time, Brown reminds us, that President McKinley was fatally shot across the Atlantic by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

The result is delightful entertainment with more than a dash of comedy. Brown’s novels have grown steadily better as he goes along. He deftly juggles historical fact with fictional whodunnit.

The new book gives a vivid picture of the old-time theater scene. (A cheeky 12-year-old newcomer named Charles Chaplin wanders through in the background.) Brown’s Holmes is a natural ham with all his makeup, wigs, fake noses and phony accents, and he takes to the case like a duck to water.

Old favorites from the Holmes canon wander through, notably Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. (Lestrade gets along much better with Mrs. Hudson than with Holmes, largely because he has a sweet tooth for her fresh-baked scones.) Even Conan Doyle pops in, identified only as a doctor and the author of such well-liked historical novels as “The White Company.” (He helps out with the detecting, and the other characters conclude he’s pretty good at it.) “Mrs. Hudson Takes the Stage” holds up in the rather picky world of Sherlock Holmes fanatics, and it deserves a wider audience.”

Mrs. Hudson Takes the Stage is available from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USA, Barnes and Noble USAAmazon UK, Waterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Kindle.

9781787055216

 

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