From THE DOYLOCKIAN, by Alistair Duncan
Review: The Devil’s Due by Bonnie MacBird
The Devil’s Due is Bonnie MacBird’s third Sherlock Holmes novel and I say up front that it is the best so far.
It takes place in 1890, which is an interesting time to pick. According to some chronologies, this places the story some nine (or so) years into the Holmes/Watson partnership so it is interesting that Bonnie MacBird paints a picture of a Holmes who is still building his relationship, as a force for good, with both the police and public. In a parallel, that I’m certain is intentional, the press is responsible for portraying Holmes as almost the Devil himself. This leads to some portions of the public treating Holmes with nothing short of contempt. You could say that, in this novel, Holmes is a walking version of Brexit – bringing out the extremes of opinion that we in the UK are used to seeing on that subject. As a result of this we are given a Holmes who is quite often physically and, occasionally, psychologically vulnerable and thus dependent on his trusty Watson in the way a pensioner might be on their walking stick. Watson is no mere appendage in this book.
Into this setting comes a series of murders. They have two obvious features; firstly that wealthy and influential philanthropists are being killed and, secondly, they are being killed in alphabetical order.
The latter concept has been done before, most notably by Agatha Christie in The ABC Murders, but that is as far as the similarity goes. The murders are suitably gruesome and inventive and the overall tone is dark which pleased me greatly. Furthermore, the events are so well constructed that we see Holmes make some very well thought out deductions. This may seem standard but it is surprising how often decent scenes of deduction are absent from Sherlock Holmes pastiches.
We are taken to all areas of London during the course of the story. We go from 221B to the houses of Mayfair, where Holmes and Watson rub shoulders with the wealthy and powerful, to the docks of the East End where they try not to rub shoulders too often with anyone.
We also see our fair share of Canonical characters alongside original characters. Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes are the principals among the former. Unlike many an inferior pastiche they are not over or inappropriately used. Speaking of Mycroft, it is just as well that this story takes place after The Greek Interpreter or there might have been some chronological knots to untangle (well, we could’ve always blamed Watson).
Pleasingly, when it comes to the author’s original characters, the story introduces us to strong female players, amongst whom is, in all but name, a female irregular who plays a very important part in events and is most certainly not window dressing. In fact I would go so far as to say that I hope this particular character features in future stories.
Speaking more generally, it’s always a challenge to make novel-length Sherlock Holmes stories which is why Conan Doyle did it so rarely. Holmes tended to suit the short-story format better. Bonnie MacBird is one of those writers who can produce a novel that is not, unlike so many, a short-story concept stretched out.
I am forced to conclude in the way I started. This is Bonnie MacBird’s best Holmes novel so far and cements her, as one of the best pastiche authors out there. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very hard on pastiches and don’t tend to buy or read them because I’ve been so often disappointed.
This did not disappoint. Get it as soon as you can.
From SHOTS Magazine, by Mike Ripley
It’s good to see the Collins Crime Club imprint back doing what it did best, publishing crime fiction. It was an iconic brand and, fittingly, now publishes the latest adventure of the genre’s most iconic character, Sherlock Holmes, in The Devil’s Due by Bonnie MacBird.
This is a rich stew of Holmesian tropes and lore which romps along with a familiar cast – Watson, Lestrade, Mycroft – bizarre murders (by letter opener), hansom cabs and the protocols of the Diogenes Club, and the added spice of a plot involving French anarchists, Tarot cards and an ‘Alphabet Killer’ learning his ABCs but not getting as far as a character called Zander. The atmosphere for a grimy 1890 London seems spot-on, though I have a niggling doubt about whether the landlord of the Snake and Drum in Spitalfields would have offered Dr Watson a choice of “ale or beer” or whether the very English Watson would have said his destination was “half a block away”. But what do I know? I am no Sherlockian and my knowledge of the Holmes canon is little more than elementary.
Set in 1890, MacBird’s solid third Sherlock Holmes adventure (after 2017’s Unquiet Spirits) poses a clever mystery for the master detective to solve. London is being afflicted by a series of strange deaths, including that of medical research donor Horatio Anson, who was found “dry, clean, and in his nightclothes, upright in his bed, yet drowned, a ‘Devil’ Tarot card in his hand.” Another victim, paper magnate Sebastian Danforth, was stabbed to death with a letter opener. Holmes learns that Anson and Danforth were both members of the Luminarians, a secret group of self-made men who use their fortunes to “bring light to the world,” and that their deaths and others may be the work of a serial killer working his way through the alphabet. The inquiry is made harder by the antipathy toward Holmes on the part of the new head of the Metropolitan Police, Titus Billings, who has vowed to “make London safe from the hordes of foreign criminals flooding our city.” Fans of traditional pastiches will want to see more from MacBird, who convincingly recreates the characters and prose style of Conan Doyle’s originals.
NETGALLEY COMMENTS ON THE DEVIL’S DUE from the website
“Gripping and well crafted. I strongly recommend it.”
“This series takes the genre to its heights”
“Complex plot with a fascinating historical background”
“MacBird keeps us guessing the whole book”
“Although the third in the series, it is easily read as a standalone story”
“Author Bonnie MacBird delightfully leavens her very serious subjects (the Great Detective, serial killing, yellow journalism, mob hysteria, anarchy, terrorist bombings, insanity) with gentle wry humour in the third of her Sherlock Holmes series.”
“The Devil’s Due is a brilliant mystery that brings the worldwide renowned and beloved detective back to life. There’s little doubt that Bonnie MacBird has done some seriously thorough research on Sir Doyle’s most famous creation. Reading The Devil’s Due feels like revisiting an old friend – almost as if Doyle himself is narrating this.
More importantly, however, The Devil’s Due is a gripping story, with small subplots and colorful characters that come into play, creating a complicated (in all the right ways) plot that keeps you on your toes to the very end. An enjoyable read that’s not exactly for one sitting length-wise – but which you’ll probably try to finish overnight, anyway – The Devil’s Due is definitely a recommended read. Both for fans of Sherlock Holmes, and for fans of mystery books and detective stories in general. Not to be missed.”
“This is third in a series by Bonnie MacBird reinvigorating the Holmes and Watson mythology. Her version of these characters is without a doubt my favorite. Tightly plotted and full of red herrings and a bit of gore, this book was such a delight to read. Held my interest from page one and I cannot wait for what I hope will be a fourth! “
MacBird does a remarkable job in resurrecting Sherlock, this is a great mystery with Sherlock facing a worthy adversary in this complex mystery of secrets, corruption and amorality. The narrative is delivered by Watson, a man who has sorely missed being in the thick of city life and the range of London’s social circles, from the elite to the poorest. More than anything, he revels in being back together with Holmes, the thrill and excitement of being involved in hunting for a killer, and he plays a pivotal part in the finale. A great book, that can easily be read as standalone, that I think those who love Sherlock and other crime enthusiasts are likely to enjoy.”
“Great pacing, plot, writing, scenery, I really enjoyed this read. Will read more from this author in the future.