Amid a bumper crop of new Sherlock Holmes stories, Bonnie MacBird’s Art in the Blood stands out.
MacBird demonstrates that one doesn’t have to re-imagine Holmes as unshaven, African-American, or a highly functioning sociopath in order to be creative and engaging.
Art in the Blood is what we have come to call a “traditional” Sherlock Holmes story, meaning that Watson tells the tale and Arthur Conan Doyle would recognize the characters. MacBird doesn’t substitute her vision for the Agent’s. When Holmes impatiently says “Yes, yes, of course” and Dr. Watson immediately orders brandy for a stricken man, our heroes are acting true to form.
With its interlocking story lines, the plot is more complex and the book longer than any of the four Canonical novels. But the fast pace evokes The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles: “I fingered the revolver, cold and reassuring, in my pocket. Against my better instincts, I found the thrill of adventure rising inside in me like an unwanted fever.” That’s our Watson!
The burned-out Holmes we encounter at the beginning is saved from his own self-destructive impulses by the good Watson’s attentions and a problem presented by a letter in invisible ink from a beautiful French chanteuse whose son has disappeared. That is only the beginning of a case that involves aristocracy, art theft, and the murders of several young boys.
MacBird’s years in the film business show in the sold structure of the novel. Art in the Blood is not just a good Sherlock Holmes story, but also a fine mystery with an unexpected villain and a strong finish.
(Full disclosure: Bonnie MacBird had kind words for my Rogues Gallery and thanked me at the end of Art in the Blood for a minor favor. But if all of her Sherlockian friends banned themselves from writing about the book it would get almost no reviews at all.)