There was quite a lot of buzz when ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ by Fabrice Bourland came out last year. I remember seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere in London and being intrigued by the idea of a supernatural 1930’s twist on a Sherlock Holmes-esque tale of murder and mystery. However the hype seemed to get a little too much, it was appearing here, there and everywhere and being given away in London hotels. So I mentally popped it into my ‘maybe one day’ pile of never ending books I might read. Then I saw Sakura’s review of it and thought ‘ooh maybe I will give that one a go’. It happened to be in my library just the other week and so I picked it up.
The premise of the novel is quite a simple on. We have two detectives Singleton and Trelawney who have recently arrived in London from Canada, where the crimes weren’t taxing enough for them, where they have set up a shared abode in Bloomsbury. There has been a particularly nasty spate of murders in the last few months and when a woman comes to call, who happens to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s recently widowed second wife, with a mystery of ghostly activity at none other than 221 Baker Street. Why the duo must of course investigate. Is it reminding you of anything at all?
“My friend James Trelawney and I never imagined for a moment what would follow when there was a knock at the door of our rooms in Montague Street towards the end of the morning of Friday, 24th June 1932. We knew no one in London and since Miss Sigwarth, our landlady, had let someone come up without calling up from downstairs in her shrill voice – something we had asked her not to do – it probably meant that the visit was professional. It was not a moment to soon. Three months had passed with nothing to fill our days and the wait was starting to get James down.”
I admit that at first I thought ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ wasn’t going to be a book I could finish, it seemed a rip off of Conan Doyle and I wasn’t initially impressed. However it was becoming one of those books where at the end of every chapter you think ‘oh, I will just read one more’ and I was glad I did because as the book goes on, and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes (I know, he’s a fictional character but I bore with it, so others should) appears, we enter the world of spiritualism that Conan Doyle himself became part of. This became a homage both to Conan Doyle and his invention Holmes.
It also became a book about Victorian books and the sensational, a period and genreI adore, but sadly this did detract away form something which could have made the book all the more successful – for me at least. You see my slight issue with the book was that for a book in the 1930’s it lacked that period’s atmosphere. It was so focused on Conan Doyle, Dickens, Wilde, Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde etc that it became steeped in the Victorian and let me wanting. It seems silly that someone who loves Victoriana so much would say that, but I didn’t really feel I was in the 1930’s London which I would have liked too. I wouldn’t have minded the book being a bit longer in order to gain that atmosphere either.
The book does get far fetched but do you know what, sometime we all just need a book that’s escapist, entertaining and a romp. This is just that sort of book. The character Singleton actually seems to completely encapsulate the book when he discusses the crimes as they go on “A literary crime… supernatural powers… spiritualist séances going wrong.” If that’s your sort of thing then you will no doubt enjoy this. I did.