Author: Vasudev Murthy

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (January 5, 2016)

ISBN-10: 1464204527

ISBN-13: 978-1464204524

For over a century, countless authors and scriptwriters have been adding their own spins to the most famous characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They’ve pitted Sherlock Holmes against Dracula, turned him into Jack the Ripper, and had Holmes and Watson defeating Nazi spies. Presently, both British and American television offer updated Holmes stories, the Brits demonstrating clever imaginative twists to old plots, the Yanks broadcasting the more politically correct Elementary with Jane, not John Watson.

Now, Indian writer Vasudev Murthy takes his turn at trying to fill in the years between 1891 and 1894. According to Murthy, before the staged death scene at Reichenbach Falls in 1891, an Italian scholar traveled from Venice bearing an ancient parchment allegedly written by Marco Polo and begged for help at 221B Baker Street. The document, taken from the libraries of Kublia Khan, seems to include one half of a mysterious map. The potential secret is so dangerous that Holmes fakes his death to be free to investigate the mystery in Italy, the Vatican, in Morocco, and across Africa. Forget gaslights and hansom cabs; think a relentless desert sun and packed camels. Forget remote English castles and foggy moors; think plodding desert caravans and lengthy descriptions of Arab tribal customs.

Murthy clearly knows his approach may not best please many Holmes aficionados. At one point, he injects a tad of humor by giving readers three means to register their displeasure with the book. At another point, he praises readers who are willing to take the time to read about exotic customs without enjoying the usual trappings of a Holmes mystery. Without question, the saga does meander in style and substance. In the early passages, Murthy demonstrates his mastery of the literary style Doyle gave Dr. Watson. But once the setting changes and new narrators are added to the mix, little flavor of Watson’s voice remains. For much of the subsequent desert trek, the title lead could be anyone other than Sherlock Holmes. His trademark deductive reasoning only comes into play sporadically, and often brought in for mini-mysteries that are digressions from the main plot.

The bottom line is, no Holmes purist should come to this adventure with any expectations that they’ll be in familiar territory. Yes, the hand and presence of Professor Moriarty is here. Holmes dons disguises, enjoys his pipe and violin, draws on his language Abilities, and lets it be known he’d like some of his seven percent solution. In between these tropes, we can be forgiven for thinking we’re along for a ride with T.E. Lawrence.

All this being said, Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Timbuktu can be enjoyed for what it is and not worry about what it isn’t. It does take some effort to jump around with the author as there are numerous jagged edges, leaps in chronology, and sections that seem more inserted than part of the organic whole. But the descriptions are vivid, the use of history is often engaging, many of the characters are sketched quite well, and the end game is very imaginative. So if you’re a Holmes fan, why not give this one a try? Just disregard any preconceptions you might bring to the table.