The Ill Dressed Vagabond

aka Philip K Jones

Posts tagged sherlock holmes

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Philip K. Jones reviews The Great Detective: His Further Adventures

"This book is an anthology of an even dozen short stories and novellas by a variety of authors.  “The Mystery of Ogham Manor” is a novella by Stan Trybulski in which Holmes unmasks a serial killer with an international reputation.  Magda Jozsa’s short story, “The Dentist,” tells of a murder brotherhood uncovered by Dr. Watson and brought to justice by Holmes.  In “The Fury,” a short story by Lyn McConchie, we revisit King’s Pyland Stables and Colonel Ross, owner of Silver Blaze.  A gypsy stable hand who tends a difficult horse has gone missing and is urgently needed to calm the horse before a race.  In “Death and No Consequences,” a short story by Richard K. Tobin, Holmes and Watson are asked by the Royal Family to investigate a gruesome murder.

John L. French’s short story, “Murder at the Diogenes Club,” is an onion.  In it, layers of truth and falsehood are stripped away, one after another, to reveal the true events behind a “smash and grab” set of murders.  Ralph E. Vaughan’s short story, “The Adventure of the Night Hunter,” tells of Sherlock and (his cousin?) Professor Challenger joining forces to track a new hunter who has declared a territory in the world’s largest city.  “The Adventure of the Devil’s Father,” a short story by Morris Hershman, tells the tale of “Colonel Warburton’s madness” as cited in “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.”  Inspector Lestrade introduces Holmes and Watson to “…the card scandal at the Nonpareil Club,” as cited in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in Marvin Kaye’s short story “A Memo from Inspector Lestrade.”

“The Button Box,” a short story by Lyn McConchie, Brings Hilton Soames, from “The Adventure of the Three Students” back into Holmes and Watson’s lives.  His grandmother’s button box had been stolen from her in broad daylight near a friend’s house.  “Sherlock Holmes – Stymied” is a short story by Gary Lovisi in which Dr. Watson introduces Holmes to golf and to some of its odder rules.  “Bad Habits” by Magda Jozsa is a novella that involves Holmes and Watson in a complex plot through a letter from a nun.  “Irene and the Old Detective” is a short story by Richard L. Kellogg that tells of Holmes in retirement giving advice to a schoolgirl on studying.

These tales allowed me to revisit some old favorites and to meet several writers new to me.  All were well-written and imaginative and several presented new slants on Untold Tales cited in the Canon.  Surprisingly, only one writer seemed to have trouble with the contrasts between British and American English usage.  I recall that World War II meetings were plagued by the opposite meanings of “tabling” an item of discussion used by the US and the UK staff.  One of the authors here cites Holmes as using this term in the American sense fifty years before that difference became a problem.  The Acknowledgement segment of the book gives the publishing history of the tales, telling where three were published previously.  I happen to be familiar with some of the others, through personal communications and it was good to see them finally in print.”

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Philip K. Jones reviews The Galactic Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

This book is part of series by the author called “The Starship UK” series.  These books are set in a distant future when humanity have abandoned the Earth, due to over-pollution and depleted resources and, instead, live in a widely dispersed group of large city-starships in which they search for unoccupied planets to settle.  The tales of Sherlock Holmes occur in or near to “Starship UK,” the main residence of descendants of the population of the United Kingdom.

The author specializes in science fiction, so all of the stories in this series are set in a distant future.  The eight tales included in this volume reprise, in loose fashion, eight of the Canonical tales.  Sherlockians will recognize the sources of these events and will find the adaptation of the original tales into this odd future to be imaginatively done.

As a long-time science fiction fan, I found the author’s approach to the scientific side of his tales somewhat less than satisfactory.  I was constantly irritated by his very confusing use of galaxy and system interchangeably.  Further, there was no explanation of the faster than light technology in use or of any methods to avoid light speed travel limitations.  Further, the future technology in use was surprisingly limited and the society was much simpler than one would expect from the complexity required to support the history provided.  There were also a number of spelling and grammar errors that need attention.

The tales included all present interesting adaptations of the elements of Canonical tales into a future setting.  It goes without saying that the details of events in this collection differ widely from those originally published.  Most adaptations are both amusing and ingenious.

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Philip K. Jones reviews The Papers of Sherlock Holmes by David Marcum

This is the first collection of Sherlockian tales from this author.  It includes eight novellas and two short stories as well as an explanation of the source of the stories.

“The Adventure of the Least Winning Woman,” is not to be confused with “…the most winning woman…” cited in The Sign of Four. It describes an interesting case of blackmail and appropriation of a business for criminal purposes.  In “The Adventure of the Treacherous Tea,” Holmes is engaged by a man arrested for murder who escaped from the police simply to flee to Holmes to plead with him to look into his arrest. “The Singular Affair at Sissinghurst Castle” brings Holmes and Watson face-to-face with another local legend of historic evil.  This one seems to have been used by a sharp business practitioner.

“The Adventure of the Second Chance” is a short story that describes Holmes’ dealings with the family of a man in Professor Moriarty’s employ.  It begins during ”Silver Blaze” and concludes in 1901 with an execution.  “The Affair of the Brother’s Request” is another tale that covers decades in time.  It cites a separate tale of Holmes’ adventures in the post-Civil-War Southern USA and concludes with a trip to the area by Holmes and Watson after WW-I.  “The Adventure of the Madman’s Ceremony” occurs during the same trip by Holmes and Watson after WW-I and involves some chance-met acquaintances.  “The Haunting of Sutton House” tells two tales.  One is yet another use of legends for profit that Holmes wrecks and the other is a tale of family wrangling that arises from insanity.

“The Adventure of the Missing Missing Link” tells of Holmes and Watson’s involvement in the Piltdown discovery.  It also tells of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement and of some of the principals as well.  “The Adventure of the Other Brother” goes into some depth in describing the other members of the Holmes family as well as their relations and pseudonyms over the years.  Two well-known detective duos are identified and related to each other in roundabout fashion.  The final item is titled “Postscript: Two Letters.”  It provides some continuity and explanation for the sources of these tales.

This collection is difficult to describe.  This is clearly a different Holmes and Watson than the characters we see in the Canon.  This Watson is sensible, curious and sensitive while this Holmes is human and caring.  The explanation, we are told, is that these are not tales prepared by Watson for publication, but rather are tales prepared by the editor from notes taken by Watson, either as the events occurred or shortly thereafter.  These are darker and more realistic tales than we see in the Canon.  Here criminals are filled with fear and hatred and pride.   Victims are afraid and confused and distracted and events often occur at random, not as part of a plan.  The stories are interesting and the Holmes and Watson we meet are also interesting, if not the same as their Canonical counterparts.

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Philip K. Jones reviews The Untold Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


“This collection includes seven novellas drawn from a variety of times during Holmes’ career.  The letter by Dr. Watson that precedes the stories explains that these tales were not told earlier for a variety of reasons but mostly to prevent further harm to the victims.  There seems to be no common thread or theme among the tales included.

‘The Adventure of the Poisoned Affair’ tells of Holmes’ involvement, at the request of the new widow, in the investigation of an apparent suicide by poison.  Anomalies at the scene convince Holmes that the ‘suicide’ is actually a murder.  ‘The Adventure of the Yellow Handkerchief’ leads Holmes and Watson into the world of Thuggee.  Inspector Lestrade asks Holmes to help with a series of murders that are otherwise unrelated except for yellow handkerchiefs left at the scenes.  The story also presents a selection of other potential clients and their problems.

‘The Adventure of the Haunted Hotel’ presents a mystery with its roots firmly placed in the past.  Holmes and Watson are faced with hatreds and superstitions based on a pirate raid carried out at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century.  The solution requires drastic action and careful planning.  ‘The Adventure of the Acquitted Client’ details a well-organized and executed scam based on common legal practice in Victorian England.  Again, the solution calls for a great deal of planning and active detective work.

‘The Adventure of St. Mary’s Murder’ has Holmes called in to help the local police on another series of murders.  Attractive young women are being murdered and left in churches in the Manchester area.  There seems to be no connection except the youth and attractiveness of the victims.  Holmes and Watson manage to identify and trap the monster responsible, along with evidence to convict for multiple murders.  ‘The Adventure of the Diamond Jubilee’ has Inspector Lestrade seeking Holmes’ help in dealing with an apparent threat by Muslim extremists against the Queen at Her Diamond Jubilee.  A resurrected Moriarty seems to be at the base of this problem and Holmes must persuade the Queen to accept his advice and control of events in order to ensure Her safety.

The final story, ‘The Solved Problem’, rewrites some elements of ‘The Empty House’ and reveals the details of the death of Mary Morstan Watson.  In addition, the elements of the renewed Moriarty presence mentioned in earlier stories is explained and examined.  Many elements of this tale are quite personal and painful for Watson and telling it is difficult and revealing.

This book was fairly well edited.  I found only a couple of spelling errors, but there were a number of homonym errors.  For example, writing ‘past’ for ‘passed’ and visa-versa occurred several times, along with various, similar errors.  There were also odd errors in subject/predicate agreement and a few other such problems.  Another problem for Sherlockians is the difference between these tales and those from the Canon.  I cannot put my finger on the stylistic details, for Watson is kept thoroughly in the dark by Holmes, but the difference is one of taste and viewpoint, so don’t look for new Canonical tales.  On the other hand, these are interesting and puzzling mysteries and the author worked to recreate the world of The Canon.”

The Untold Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores including in the USA Barnes and Noble and Amazon , in the UK Amazon and Waterstones and fans outside US and UK can get free delivery from Book DepositoryIn ebook format it is in Kindle, iTunes, Kobo and Nook. 

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Philip K. Jones reviews The Pirate King by Laurie R. King

"This is the eleventh volume in the author’s “Mary Russell” series.  It is an attempt at humor and adventure where neither Mary nor Sherlock need to save the world, nor even the British Empire.  Mary is maneuvered by Sherlock, Lestrade and Mycroft into applying for a secretary/assistant position with a British film producer who is planning on making a movie about pirates.  This producer is seen by His Majesty’s Government as Great Britain’s answer to the industry dominance of the American film studios, so his effort must be successful.  The fact that certain nefarious transactions seem to dog the footsteps of this producer’s so-far-successful efforts is really of no consequence to his investors (Royal, noble and otherwise), but they do want an official presence to watch out for their interests.

Mary, with her Oxford degree and her multiple Language skills, is a godsend to the producer, whose current assistant has gone missing, as he is planning on filming at locations in the Mediterranean. Eventually she and the ‘cast and crew’ head off to Portugal to begin their travels.  There they find an ideal pirate ship and acquire a crew of pseudo-pirates to man it.  From there it is ‘off to Morocco’ to begin filming their epic. 

Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly, so Mary is faced with problems ranging from Languages and seasickness to oversexed cast and crew.  She keeps her knowledge of Arabic to herself and so hears more than people intend.  The pirates they hired begin to seem more and more real as the ideal pirate ship looks less and less ideal.  The complexities grow even faster than the budget and more and more secrets pop out of the woodwork.

As a comedy, the effort falls a bit flat.  Many of the situations are amusing, but they do not sing of silliness or resound with offstage laughter.  It all seems a bit strained and no one seems happy, ever.  Everyone seems to be taking things very seriously and yet no one seems really interested in the people around them.  It just reads like a tiresome task that Mary must perform.  Nothing is fun, not even the ending, with Mary asked to star in a new picture based on Byron’s “Corsair” titled “Pirate Queen.”

As an adventure, this book is interesting.  It has lots of thrills and realistic menaces.  Much of the Nineteenth Century lurks in out-of-the-way corners of the world, even after The War to end all Wars.  The slave trade, both white and otherwise, remains active and Piracy is still profitable if performed discretely.  However, the pirates can learn as well as anyone else and the opportunities in this modern world can be dazzling if a bit of imagination is applied.  Unfortunately, the author has not really applied herself to creating her trademark intriguing characters.  She has produced a variety of personages, but most are not quite filled out or believable.  This book is just not up to her usual standard.”

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Philip K. Jones reviews Sherlock Holmes and the Dead Boer at Scotney Castle


“This is a first novel by an author new to Sherlockian fiction.  The presentation of Holmes and Watson is a bit different than is common in such works, but it does seem more sensible than others, both in the Canon and in the many pastiches available.  Holmes and Watson disagree and argue and look at the world quite differently than as we are accustomed to view them.  On the other hand, the world inhabited by this Holmes and Watson is quite different from that of the Canon and most pastiches.  It is a complex, gritty and more realistic world where things are seldom as they appear.

Early in the story as well as near the end, the author describes meals featuring a Turkish dish, Imam Bayildi, translated as “The Swooning Imam.”  In many ways, this dish is representative of the story as a whole.  Imam Bayildi is a main dish made with eggplant (aubergines) and a number of vegetables, herbs and spices.  In reality, the eggplant merely serves to provide neutral bulk and texture for the dish whose taste is compounded of the many flavors of the other ingredients.  In this story, the tale itself is complex and convoluted and not really believable, but it provides an excellent medium in which to present the gorgeous tapestry of places, characters, objects and opinions included by the author.

Holmes and Watson receive a peremptory summons to make presentations to a small society of wealthy Kipling fans.  In arriving early for the appointment, Holmes manages to scramble some of the plans for the event and this has consequences.  Plans are shifted and adjusted and complex events proceed with deviations.  A naked corpse is found in a pond on a neighboring estate and, from newspaper accounts Holmes decides that murder has been committed.  Watson objects and the dance begins.

The characters perform, the scenery changes and Holmes begins to realize his mistakes.  Dr. Watson comes to see that murder has been done and Holmes realizes the murder cannot be proven or prosecuted.  Clues contradict clues and the world shifts around as viewpoints change.  The author continues to present paradoxes and the characters act out their destined roles.  The modern world shifts its focus and Europe edges closer to the brink of war.

In addition to sharing my taste for complex prose and tangled events, the author also exhibits some talent in his fiction writing which does not appear in mine.  The only problems I could find were a very few anachronistic terms and a possibly over-active imagination.  Either the editor is quite capable or the author is most erudite or both contingencies apply.  A wide range of subjects are discussed and presented in complex language without becoming boring.  It was a real joy to read.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Dead Boer at Scotney Castle is available from all good bookstores including in the USA Barnes and Noble and Amazon, in the UK Waterstones, Amazon and Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) and in all electronic formats including Kindle and  iPad

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Philip K Jones reviews Sherlock Holmes and the Portsmouth Mystery

Sherlock Holmes and the Portsmouth Mystery is the only Sherlockian book that I know of by this author, a former ‘Crusher,’ in the parlance of ‘The Andrew.’  Jack Coggan started as a ‘yard boy’ at Portsmouth in 1942 and retired in 1983 with only a term of service in the Navy at War’s end to break his career as a ‘yard dog.’  The book is interesting, colorful and lively.  It smells of paint and oil and welding and it rings with the sounds of ship building and repair.  It includes scenes from the dives and the chandlers, from battleships and coaling barges and the homes of workmen as well as the offices of Admirals.

Holmes and Watson are summoned to the office of the Minister of the Navy and asked to investigate the theft of the plans for a new battleship, to be called “HMS Dreadnought.”   This ship marked the coming of age of the battleship as it was the first “all big gun” ship and the ancestor of all battleships to follow.  It combined steam turbines for speed with heavy armour and a fearsome main battery and it changed the ‘ironclad’ Navy into the modern Navy.  Only the arrival of the Aircraft Carrier replaced this type of battleship as the queen of the fleet.

Holmes and Watson are sent to Portsmouth, to ‘Pompey’ the main base of the Royal Navy, with directions to find the plans and to capture the thieves.  They find much more and must look into nooks and crannies unfamiliar to the Admiralty to complete their task.  As the story progresses, side issues intrude and other villains are identified and thwarted, but the main character remains elusive and his plans are intricate and well-laid. 

The characters, the settings and the problems are unique.  The book provides a vivid window into the world of Nineteenth Century Naval Construction and the complexity of converting the largest Navy in the World into a modern power.  It also shows many of the arcane details of the naval construction world, planning, designing and testing new weapons, tactics and the procedures to use these against enemies.

There are a few editing continuity problems, far fewer than are common among new writers.  Some are almost unnoticeable and none are really distracting.  The writing maintains the interest level and avoids heavy jargon and specialized language wherever possible.  The mystery is intriguing and well thought out and the characterizations are mostly well done.  Sherlockian purists may have problems with the Holmes and Watson presented here, but the surroundings and complexity of cooperating with the naval authorities actually combine to impose serious limitations on Holmes’ usual disrespect for authority.  The naval personnel are eager to deal with the problem and are easier to persuade than I would expect, while Holmes is more open and talkative than he is normally presented.


This is a fun read and a very interesting picture of a long gone place and time.  The author certainly knows his subject and presents an insider’s view of the complex machine that built the greatest navy in the world.

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Philip K Jones reviews Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire by Dean P. Turnbloom


“This is a first novel by an author new to Sherlockian fiction who has undertaken to unite two of the most popular Sherlockian pastiche subjects into a single volume.  The Database of Sherlockian pastiches, parodies and related fiction lists ninety five efforts to have Sherlock uncover the identity of ‘Saucy Jack.’  Further, the database also lists fifty five efforts to tell of Sherlock’s efforts to cope with Vampires.  Two of the listed items combine these themes.  A short story, “The Children of the Night,” and the current volume are the only combinations of these themes, in so far as I know.

This book also combines two investigations.  Holmes is convinced that an Italian immigrant, accused of the murder of a young Italian lady on the ship that brought them from Italy, is innocent.  Holmes’ efforts to ‘clear up’ this case lead him into the investigation that Scotland Yard are bungling in front of all the world.  Prejudice, sloppy investigative techniques and an inability to look for a bloodthirsty murderer outside the lower classes have hamstrung the Yard’s investigation.

Holmes’ investigation is meticulous and revealing.  It is also unwelcome to ‘the powers that be.’  The cooperation he receives is spotty at best so the final resolution of the ‘Ripper killings’ is left clouded and uncertain.  Holmes solves his problems, has the Italian immigrant released and finds employment and new lives for him and his brother-in-arms.  The prostitute murderer disappears from history, we hope.

The book is reasonably well-written, with only minor editing errors.  The investigations are well covered and the characters are sharply drawn.  The book is not to my personal taste, but it is an interesting and well conducted effort.  The science aspects are imaginative and the settings are well done.”

Sherlock Holmes and The Whitechapel Vampire is available through all good bookstores including The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and in all electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks (iPad).

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Philip K Jones reviews More from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD by Hugh Ashton

This is another collection of three novellas prepared from notes left by Dr. Watson.  Unlike the earlier collection by this author, all these tales were cited in the Canon as Untold Tales.  As in his earlier collection, these tales are written from notes rather than from narratives already prepared for publication.  In fact, it is clear that these stories were never intended to be made public.  This fact presents us with a somewhat different view of the Holmes/Watson partnership and it allows readers to understand better why Holmes valued Watson’s  help and insights.  We are spared the self-deprecation and obvious obfuscations of the Canonical tales and, instead, see more of the working relationship of a team.


As a note for the curious, Watson quite properly called the box he deposited with his bankers a “Dispatch Box” because that is what it was.  However, bankers have their own jargon and they call deposited, secure boxes “deed boxes,” because that is what such items have traditionally held, deeds that demonstrate ownership of property.


“The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness” dips into Dr.Watson’s past and introduces Holmes to the afflictions of the good Doctor’s former Colonel.  There have been almost twenty attempts to tell this story, mentioned in passing by Watson in “The Greek Interpreter,” and this is definitely one of the best offerings I have seen.  It is puzzling and confusing, but it always seems to ‘feel’ natural as one reads it.  People act as individuals trying to cope with problems not apparent to the outside observer, but they are always people, not stick figures or costumed dummies.  The hero and heroine are both troubled and unsure of each other.  The Colonel acts strangely, but has good reasons for what he does.


“The Mystery of the Paradol Chamber” relates the Untold Tale of “…the adventure of the Paradol Chamber…” (cited in “The Five Orange Pips”).  Again, there have been many attempts to tell this tale, at least fifteen are known to me and this is probably the most complicated I have seen.  In addition, the motives for many of the most puzzling actions by the principals arise from completely different bases than are expected, so the outcome and motivations are obscure through most of the narrative.


The final story in this collection is that of “The Giant Rat of Sumatra,” cited as “Matilda Briggs was…a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra…“  in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.”  This is quite possibly the most popular of the mentioned but Untold Tales with more than sixty versions known to me.  It is exceeded in popularity as a subject for pastiches only by the Unmentioned Untold Tale, that of Holmes and ‘Saucy Jack.’


This telling of “The Giant Rat” associates Holmes and Watson with the Royal Navy at the request of brother Mycroft.  A new Minister of the Navy must be named soon and the preferred candidate has gone missing.  Holmes and Watson are needed to track him down and to clear up the mystery of his disappearance.  This involves the pair in strange doings and introduces even stranger persons into the story line.  The matter is resolved, but at serious cost and with disappointing results.


As in his earlier collection, the author has managed to retain the ‘sound’ of the Canonical tales but has also managed to infuse his works with more human and life-like views of Holmes and, especially, of Watson.  I expect that most Sherlockians are aware that the person who ‘wrote’ most of those Canonical tales could not have been the same person who got everything wrong or misinterpreted while participating in them.  The Watson presented here is a sensible and thoughtful person, well capable of arguing with Holmes and of pulling him back from error when he forgets that we are all human.

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Philip K Jones reviews Sherlock Holmes and the Irish Rebels


“This is Mr. McMullen’s second book of Sherlockian fiction and his gift for catching the reality of time and place is undiminished.  Since this book is about Irish History, it is a sad book.  It tells of the Easter Uprising of 1916 as experienced by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson at the request of Mycroft Holmes.  The characters are mostly historic and are presented much as they were, flawed human beings trying to live up to their own ideals.

My knowledge of 20th Century Irish History is spotty at best, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of Mr. McMullen’s portrayals, but I suspect they are fairly true to life.  Many of the participants in this tale died during or within a short time after the events narrated.  Most of the prominent survivors died within the next few years, so our knowledge of these times relies mostly on the memories of a very few survivors and on those of friends of the participants.  Paper evidence, outside of court records, is in short supply and the courts were mostly English, with little regard for the truth of events in Ireland in the face of the urgency of The Great War.

The History between England and Ireland begins shortly after the Norman Conquest.  From the traditional English point of view, Ireland was a land of feuding tribes and pirate raiders.  The period of anarchy that followed the death of Brian Boru, who turned back the Vikings and their allies at the Battle of Clontarf, offered all the excuse that the Norman overlords needed to extend their conquest to the island.  Unlike England, the Irish were never integrated into the Kingdom.  They retained their own language, customs and religious leadership.

When Henry split the English Church from Rome, the Irish remained in communion with Rome.  The Church of Ireland made little impact on the Irish.  Most members were those whose loyalties were to England such as the descendants of Scottish and English emigrants brought into Ireland as part of Royal policies.  The Glorious Revolution of the Seventeenth Century completed the entire subjection of Ireland to English control as Cromwell invaded and devastated Ireland.  Revolution festered and generations of Irish patriots carried out an uprising roughly every forty years from the late Eighteenth Century into the Twentieth.

This story is typical of Irish tragedies.  Poets, teachers and madmen persuade and trick others into a hopeless revolution and the English act in their chosen character.  After the battle is won, they decide to wash out all traces of revolution with blood after being unable to mount any effective prevention.  Stupidity, venality and complete misunderstanding of the other side mark the normal course of English-Irish relations.

Obviously, this tale is fiction, but it could have been true.  Most of the characters are real and they acted much as described.  Holmes and Watson provide us with insights and a point of view of events that echo Greek Tragedies with their view that character is destiny.  As I said, this is a sad story, but it is gripping, emotionally involving and impressive.”

Sherlock Holmes and The Irish Rebels is available from all good bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in the UK Amazon and Waterstones - and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle, NookKobo and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

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