Those with more than a passing familiarity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are aware of his interest in the supernatural. Perhaps mostly famous is his publication of the Cottingley Fairies photographs. Aside from theosophy, he also sought out mediums, ever hopeful that the dead can speak to those still living and perhaps he could reach out once more to his father, his wife and his son.
This novel is completely fiction, but is based on Doyle’s own leanings. The author imagines a case in which the outcome of a seance convinces Doyle of impending murder. In order to prevent the crime, he ventures to the country house with his unlikely friend Oscar Wilde (The two really were friends). It is a Thraxton Hall that there is to be a meeting, a symposium of the best minds in paranormal research. And it is here that the murder is supposed to take place.
The book reads like an English “sensation” novel, with its creaking stairs, mangled inheritance and damsel in distress. Their arrival at Thraxton sets the scene perfectly:
As the two ascended the stone steps, Conan Doyle noticed the servant’s shockingly shabby appearance. The shoulders of his butler’s jacket were sprinkled with dandruff. He had apparently brushed his thinning hair with a comb missing most of its teeth. His black jacket and trousers were stamped with dust prints. But as they climbed the final steps, Conan Doyle saw up close the man’s eyes were milky white marbles set into the deathly pallor of his face. Wilde noticed them at the same moment. The two men exchanged a look, and Conan Doyle silently mouthed: Blind. ~Loc. 1121
The author creates moody ambiance with ease.
They emerged through the doors at the far end of the ballroom into the entropic ruin of the west wing. Both men froze on the spot, listening. The light outside was fading fast an the rooms and hallways seethed with a conspiracy of shadows. ~Loc.4137
While the characterizations and settings are entirely plausible, the plot sometimes is not. At times, the story becomes a bit too much of a dastardly web of deceit. It can feel like it is being deliberately dense. Still, it’s enjoyable and the plot never gets sluggish.
There is an author’s note at the end that tells the reader what is “real” and what isn’t. The author also announces that Doyle and Wilde will return in another episode of “The Paranormal Casebook of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”, entitled the Dead Assassin. I look forward to it.
Many thanks to Minotaur Books for the advance e-galley.
Series: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Book 1)
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 25, 2014)