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Saturday, December 3, 2011

A thumbs-up review from Philip K. Jones

Normally, I don't post Amazon.com reviews on this blog, but Philip K. Jones is so well known in the Sherlockian community that I thought you might be interested in his take on No Police Like Holmes. He gave the book a very respectable four stars, leaving the average for the six reviews at five stars.

This is a modern day detective mystery, set in Erin, Ohio, a college town some forty miles up river from Cincinnati. The protagonist is Jeff Cody, the public relations director at St. Benignus College. The College is hosting a Sherlock Holmes colloquium as part of celebrating the presentation of the Woolcott Chalmers Collection of Sherlockiana to the school.

The small town of Erin seems overrun with deerstalker-clad oddballs and nuts, including a number of professors and other, prominent Sherlockians. To the reader who has associated with Sherlockians and collegiate types, this book will be a constant exposure to thoughts of `but isn't that Professor ...?' or `isn't she an oriental?' or "I thought he was younger' moments. The cast is familiar, if a bit scrambled and the opinions are even more familiar and far less scrambled.

The story moves along steadily, with the customary useless police presence and the plethora of amateur `Sherlocks.' Everybody has an opinion, or two or thirteen. Deductions are a dime a gross and some are even sensible. The chief police detective has issues with most of the principals and most of them reciprocate, heartily. Some of the police staff are actually competent, which is more than can be said for the enthusiastic amateur detectives. Of course, Jeff Cody's boss is blaming all negative publicity from the various crimes perpetrated during the weekend on his public relations director. As the crime tally mounts from theft to murder and onward, his blood pressure climbs and Cody's position teeters nearer unemployed than tenured.

The solution is fairly easy to figure out, but character and personal histories keep getting in the way. Every layer of past relations uncovered leads to more motives and more suspects. It also changes the views of the various players as their foibles are uncovered and their histories revealed. In truth, as I am sure Sherlock once remarked, most of it is irrelevant. The process of accurately defining what is and what is not relevant is the real `trick' in solving a crime.

This is a pleasant novel. The characters are familiar and real, the characters experience the events, mostly, as a bewildering set of circumstances with multiple causes and a variety of possible explanations. Most have some understanding of crime solving, but are unable to make any sense out of events or are blinded by personal preconceptions and prejudices. All in all, this is quite typical of the witnesses and associates in such a set of crimes, so confusion is common and various persons pursue their own agendas and views, no matter what goes on around them.

Sherlockians will find many familiar persons in this crowd. The names and descriptions will be different, but they will all be familiar. Both villains and bystanders will seem like old friends or acquaintances and the setting sounds like a good place to convene or to collogue (what does one DO at a colloquium?).

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