Guilt draws Holmes out of retirement in his latest resurrection, narrated by (who else?) faithful Dr. Watson, who arranges a meeting between Holmes and pretty Elizabeth Trent, recently returned from Singapore, where her husband, Raleigh, was accused of embezzlement and driven to suicide. Elizabeth alone believes that Raleigh was innocent and a murder victim; she’s fighting for insurance money and the honor of his name. Holmes thinks there’s little he can do to help—until later that evening, when Elizabeth dies in a suicide scene suspiciously similar to her husband’s. But Holmes’s reference to a ratlike intruder prompts nothing but bemused looks from Watson and Inspector Lestrade. While the master sleuth prepares for an excursion to Singapore, Watson quizzes Elizabeth’s maid Mary O’Hara, who flirts outrageously. She’s interested in Watson not as a doctor or man but as an author; she’s written an explicit bodice-ripper (which figures prominently in Watson’s fantasies henceforward) and hopes he can help her secure a publisher. Much of the story takes place on a numbingly slow boat to China helmed by yarn-spinning Captain MacDougall, a black Muslim with a thick Scottish burr. Meanwhile, clues surrounding several more violent deaths continue to implicate a ratlike creature as the culprit. The outlandish Singapore finale owes much to the film Young Sherlock Holmes.
The premise promises some visceral chills, but the awkward prose could use more speed and less help from the thesaurus. Vanneman’s debut is twice as long as a Conan Doyle novel and half as interesting.