As far we know, Sherlock Holmes worked for only one client twice (other than Lestrade, Gregson, and colleagues). That truly illustrious client was His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.
Both of these Vatican cases are alluded to by Watson, but never recorded – the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca (mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter”) and the matter of the Vatican cameos (referenced in The Hound of the Baskervilles).
As a member of a group of Catholic Sherlockians called the Vatican Cameos, I have a special interest in the latter case. I even wrote a short story called “TheAdventure of the Vatican Cameos.” It was a modern-day story about Jeff Cody and Lynda Teal’s honeymoon in Rome. I think it’s my best short story.
The leader of the Vatican Cameos, Ann Margaret Lewis, wrote about both cases and the adventure of the two Coptic patriarchs in her wonderful collection of three novellas, Murder in the Vatican: TheChurch Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.
The latest writer to tackle the cameos business is Richard T. Ryan in The Vatican Cameos. It’s an excellent pastiche-length novel, very much in the spirit of the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Holmes’s task in 1901 is to recover seven stolen cameos crafted 400 years earlier by Michelangelo and being used to extort political concessions from Leo XIII. This is not so much a “whodunit” as “how do we outwit him” story. Holmes faced similar situations in his Canonical career, notably in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” and in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”
The real mystery for the reader is the nature of the cameos. Why could these old artworks hurt the papacy if they came to light? We learn the answer slowly through third-person chapters interspersed with Watson’s accounts, an effective technique for maintaining suspense.
Much of the Renaissance material is based on fact, even when it isn’t pretty fact. The cast of characters includes Pope Alexander VI and his infamous daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, but Michelangelo is the protagonist. This window on the past will remind Sherlockians of the second halves of A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, also presented in the third person.
Whether the time is 1901 or 1501, Richard T. Ryan keeps the game afoot in a way that should entertain and satisfy the most demanding Sherlockian pastiche reader.
The Vatican Cameos: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure is available for pre order from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository.