Titan, out August 25th
Holmes’ position as the leading detective of his age is challenged… by a machine…
James Lovegrove’s previous Holmes thrillers have faced the Great Detective with challenges that are rather outside the sorts of situations that Conan Doyle came up with – at least for his Holmes books. In this, his best addition to the canon yet, Lovegrove posits that a Thinking Engine – a computer in all but name – will be able to come up with the solutions to problems faster, and better, than Holmes himself. Its creator has visions of Thinking Engines eventually being present in every police station around the country, aiding – or rather, running – the investigations to ensure that no criminal’s activities go unnoticed. But Holmes, naturally, is suspicious, both of the machine, and of its abilities.
As mentioned in previous reviews, Lovegrove is of the school of writers of new Holmes stories that believes that the style of the book, and its narration, is a key part of the work. His Watson is Conan Doyle’s character, in turns of phrase and outlook; his Holmes has the tact and diplomacy of the original (or rather, the lack thereof!), and it is therefore easy to “hear” the voices of your favourite actors in the roles speaking the lines. He also doesn’t fall into the trap of making Watson an idiot, and separates the pair for some of the time, giving insight into the good doctor. We also get a new member of the constabulary as a foil for Holmes, as well as a journalist of ill-repute (who could easily have wandered in from Ripper Street!) and what feels like a nice homage to a scientist of limited mobility.
The story is set in and around Oxford for the most part, and Lovegrove wears his research lightly – there are plenty of references to the history of the town, but you never get the feeling that they’re just quotes from a gazetteer. There are also links to Doyle’s own story set in the university town, as well as other key parts of the canon.
Verdict: Lovegrove’s best Holmes novel yet is an epic and entertaining battle of wits. 9/10