Written to commemorate the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking, this makes a worthy addition to the rows of fictional accounts set around the disaster – I’d rather have something like this, or Matt Forbeck’s novel Carpathia (very different as they are in style) that use the tragedy as a springboard for a different sort of tale, than the Julian Fellowes rehashing of the real events.
Jonathan Barnes has crafted a story that fits well into the canonical adventures, and explains how the retired detective would find himself a central part of a spy-busting ring in the months leading up to the First World War. That revivification doesn’t just apply to Holmes: both he and Watson are almost broken men at the start of the story, for reasons that become clear as the tale unfolds, and while it may be reaching a bit, the thought did cross my mind that there are parallels with the Eccleston Doctor, who has not really come to terms with the events of the Time War. For Holmes, there has been something equally vague that has destroyed the Great Detective’s greatest weapon (and, some would say, his greatest failing): his unfailing self-confidence and ego. Nick Briggs’ performance has always been one of the draws of the range for me, and he portrays Holmes’ mental journey in this story to perfection.
Richard Earl’s Watson is no less admirable: the scenes between Watson and Holmes at the start of the play are heart-rending, while his interrogation of J. Bruce Ismay is masterly. Michael Maloney captures the distress of the Titanic’s owner, and his rigid belief that, despite the tragedy, he did no wrong. Ismay believes he is being haunted – a loose way to include this in Sci-Fi Bulletin territory! – although what is actually happening is in some ways more prosaic… or more tragic, depending on which version you choose to believe.
Verdict: A special Holmes story that, unlike some attempts to incorporate him into real history, works well. 8/10