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BOOK REVIEW:

The adventure of the peculiar protocols : adapted from the journals of John H. Watson, M.D.

In 1974, author and soon to be screenwriter and director Nicholas Meyer published his first novel: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that not only covered the foiling of a kidnapping plot, but famously chronicled Holmes’ recovery from addiction, with the help of Sigmund Freud. Over the decades, Meyer has written two other Holmes novels: 1976’s The West End Horror and 1993’s The Canary Trainer. Now Meyer is back with another previously untold story of the great detective, one that is characterized in the author’s introductory note as “the biggest and most consequential failure of the detective’s entire career”: The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols.

Holmes and Watson are sharing a somewhat celebratory dinner (only somewhat celebratory because Holmes has forgotten that it is his 50th birthday) when they are interrupted by Mycroft Holmes. He summons the two men to meet him the following day at the Diogenes club. When the three are assembled, Mycroft explains that an agent under his supervision has been murdered. She was killed for a manuscript she had been carrying, and Mycroft allows Holmes and Watson to examine the few, blood-stained pages Mycroft has in his possession. The topic of the manuscript is incendiary. Mycroft is concerned that, should the papers become public, they could be linked to several public international meetings and the recent unexpected, and suspicious, death of the leader of a rather radical group. If those connections are established, these papers could ultimately lead to world-wide political unrest.

Mycroft sends Holmes and Watson, along with a translator, to identify the origins of this mysterious manifesto. The investigation will take them across Europe and into Russia. It will also test them in ways that no other case has ever challenged Sherlock Holmes.

In thsi new nove, Nicholas Meyer juggles several difficult feats, any one of which would be demanding to accomplish alone: tell a new, and engaging, story about a character for which there is no lack of attempts to tell new stories (with varying degrees of success); imitate the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when writing about his most famous creation; comment in ways both direct and subtle about the world in which we all currently live; all the while providing an enjoyable and engrossing read. In The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, Meyer succeeds in all of these goals marvelously! As in his previous Holmes novels, Meyer again displays both his respect for, and his willingness to expand upon, Doyle’s established characterizations. Holmes' fans will find much to consider regarding where Meyer takes these well-known characters and how they behave on this adventure. Meyer also populates this novel with a number of historic figures, lending the story being told an incredibly strong sense of verisimilitude. Where The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols really shines is Meyer’s use of a known, if not well known, bigoted manifesto from the past to comment on our contemporary political climate. While the focus of Meyer’s novel is prejudice against the Jewish people, the sentiments behind and the actions taken to both disseminate and contain those ideas could be used to describe contemporary events occurring around the world.

"There will always be a war between light and darkness, between science and superstition, between education and ignorance. Ignorance is easier. It requires no study. Faith is the enemy of thought." This quote from Meyer’s text could as easily be referring to the contemporary debates over climate change, childhood vaccinations or any of a number of other concerns today as it does the circumstances in Meyer’s story set well over 100 years ago. And it characterizes perrfectly a world where “fake news” has become part of our daily vernacular. A world where how one feels about a topic is often given the same weight as established fact in a debate.This makes the story being told that much more sinister, chilling and timely.

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is a rousing Sherlock Holmes adventure and a thought provoking critique of the world in which we live. One hopes that Meyer won’t wait another 26 years to write his next adventure with the world’s best known and loved consulting detective. Read an interview with the author here.

 

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