Sherlock Holmes’ A Case of Royal Blackmail is a novel about the great detective by Ian Strathcarron. Serving as a prequel of sorts, the book deals with the romantic affairs frequently conducted by Edward the VII, nicknamed “Bertie.” A new author of pastiche is always a nice inclusion, and this volume does indeed show potential.
In spite of that lofty status, the book itself begins with Sherlock Holmes preparing to meet with, and meeting, a very different famous client. Specifically it puts Oscar Wilde into the early Montague Street offices of the detective, needing to recover a lost family heirloom. It is a clever beginning, as it starts with something lower in overall import while still dealing in the fact that major figures of the day would play a role in the story. Further, the use of different mysteries to support one another is entertaining.
This volume is structured as a first person narrative, with none other than Sherlock Holmes providing the point of view. It is an interesting choice whenever it is made, as even those stories published under the byline of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tend to be less than his best by most estimations. This volume is far more readable than many, although the question of capturing the style Holmes claimed he would use in The Art of Detection will be easy to raise. Certainly Sherlock Holmes claimed that Watson padded his stories with unnecessary material, yet this volume is easily longer than any of the 60 stories most widely known.
The volume is filled with wonderful little references back and calls forward to known Sherlock Holmes stories, although one might argue that like many pastiche it is rather overstuffed. An origin is given for Wiggins, Mycroft plays a major role, the war in Afghanistan is mentioned, and Sherlock Holmes has his first encounter with Lestrade. The combination is noticeable, and easily could feel contrived. Indeed the mention of the military issues in Afghanistan, though incorporated well into the story at a logical point, nonetheless feels like little more than a desperate call forward.
Like many Holmes tales, this volume purports to be a recently discovered long lost manuscript. In this particular case there is an afterword of sorts giving a story of the discovery and also the rather amusing decision to credit the entire novel to Sherlock Holmes, with Ian Strathcarron not mentioned until the acknowledgements, whereupon he is the last name to appear with the additional note that he is “author and copyright holder.” It is an amusing decision that, while not unheard of, certainly remains rare with such a pastiche. One can only gleefully imagine how many variations of catalog entries will exist for this book.
Overall A Case of Royal Blackmail is an entertaining Holmes pastiche. While not the perfect example of an imitation of the classic style, the book is likely to be enjoyed by those who like similar volumes. The mystery repeatedly twists steadily toward an entertaining conclusion. The final pages of this volume promise further pastiche by the same author, and as such potentially a great deal of further enjoyment.
(Affable Media, 2021)