Blurb: September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.
Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell–Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes–agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.
Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.
As a longtime fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, I was immediately excited by this novel’s premise. I was not disappointed.
Bradley Harper has written a learned and respectful homage to Conan Doyle which perfectly captures the tone and style of the original stories, but brings new characters and offers a satisfactory perspective on an old and regularly rehashed crime.
I will note that he does not purport to actually offer a solution to the Ripper’s identity – the case is a fictional account that incorporates real characters and events, but offers a fictional solution. Purists may bemoan this, but personally I was delighted as I am not fond of unsolved crimes or unfinished stories!
My favourite aspect of this story is how Harper evokes the shades of Watson and Holmes, but avoids turning his characters into them. We see elements of the great detective and doctor in Bell, Doyle, Harkness and even Inspector Abberline (who is afforded more respect than poor old Lestrade!), but the characters also have their own rounded personalities that make them more interesting in their own right, and prevent them from being predictable.
By taking a true crime, and this particular crime, as his template for the plot, the author did limit himself in terms of suspects and clues. The focus here is more on following and aiding the official investigation, and the ‘team’ regularly admit their lack of progress during the course of this. However the characters and events are sufficiently gripping of themselves to keep the reader hooked and entertained, and the climax is all the excitement one could wish for.
In short, I would thoroughly recommend this story to all fans of Conan Doyle’s own writing – of all the Holmes-related stories I have read from other authors, this one is by far my favourite! I look forward to seeing Doyle, Harkness and Bell return for further adventures, as the ‘first in series’ tag suggests.
Frankly, I did not feel myself up to the task, but I have always possessed a robust curiosity, so I decided to give the investigation a week. If nothing else, I was already twenty-one pounds richer for the experience, and this firsthand exposure to police investigations could serve me well should I decide to pen any further crime stories. They were quite the rage at the time, and in truth such tales have never waned in their power to grasp the public’s fancy. It says much about human nature, I fear. None of it good.
– Bradley Harper, A Knife in the Fog
Find more from Bradley Harper at his website here, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.
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