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Book Review

Book Cover

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Man from Hell


Author: Barrie Roberts
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $9.95, Cdn $12.95
ISBN: 978 1 84856 508 1
Available 26 February 2010

The brutal murder of the reclusive philanthropist Lord Backwater propels Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson into another intriguing case, which points towards a shadowy figure known only as “the Man from the Gates of Hell”. A tangled web of deceit, violence and tragedy unravels as Holmes’s deductions bring him closer to those behind the plot - a criminal organisation whose perilous influence reaches across the globe...

This is probably the least gimmicky novel thus far reprinted in the Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes range. Originally published by Constable in 1997, The Man from Hell features no famous guest characters, real or fictional, and is set within the regular Holmes / Watson timeframe. There’s a suggestion of the supernatural in the title (which proves to be unfounded), but otherwise this reads like an authentic Conan Doyle narrative.

Indeed, with its rural setting and the mysterious killing of a member of the aristocracy, the plot bears comparison to The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes even disappears for a while in the middle of the story, leaving Watson to fend for himself, a device Conan Doyle used in Baskervilles.

I didn’t guess who done it, though I am smugly satisfied that I identified the nature of one of the major clues before either Watson or Holmes. However, either Titan has accidentally missed out a bit of Barrie Roberts’s narrative or the author has cheated with some of Holmes’s deductions, because the detective refers to observations and interviews that the reader has not been privy to. Even worse, one of the interviews to which the detective refers, which is documented earlier on in the book, is incorrectly recalled by Holmes (a witness states a Christian name that he is later said not to know). However, it’s possible that this is a clever pastiche of Conan Doyle, who didn’t always get his details right!

Rather more convincing is the research that Roberts has evidently put into the subject of Van Diemen’s Land (subsequently known as Tasmania), which was used as a penal colony during the first half of the 19th century. A lengthy narrative within the narrative tells the harrowing experiences of two wrongly convicted teenage boys who were transported to that hellish place.

Though not without its faults, The Man from Hell is still a hell of a good read.


Richard McGinlay

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