“They were the footprints of a gigantic dove!” Sherlock Holmes meets the Brahmins in this lively, imaginative mashup, done in trademark Simmons (The Abominable, 2013, etc.) fashion.
In 1893, writes Simmons by way of an opening, Henry James, “for reasons that no one understands (primarily because no one besides us is aware of this story),” decides to leave this cruel world, unhappy at his lack of literary success. Family members and friends have been dying all around him, so the time seems right. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes has plunged over the waterfalls in Switzerland, locked in mortal struggle against Professor Moriarty. Naturally—well, not at all naturally, in fact—Holmes and James connect. James even pops Holmes on his famous beaker, prompting the uncharacteristic reply, “I’m sorry, James. Especially since I’ve come to think of you as a friend and I really have no friends.” Of the events leading up to such esprit de corps it might be observed that the more improbable, the better, though at least Simmons’ yarn is generally free of the steampunk affectations of the Guy Ritchie film series. Instead, Simmons posits a deliciously political plot involving President Grover Cleveland, Irene Adler, Henry Adams, half the anarchists east of the Mississippi and an extremely well-made rifle, all calculated to combine to produce chaos. Moriarty has seldom been more evil than when he sneers, “This one hour on the first of May, starting with the public execution of the chief executive of the United States of America, will make Haymarket Square look like the tiny, insignificant rehearsal it was.” Take that, Snidely Whiplash! It’s up to Holmes and James to fend off mayhem at the pass. Readers without grounding in Gilded Age history may want to keep an encyclopedia nearby, and of course, though Holmes needs no introduction, most will know Henry James only as the author of books about ghosts and perhaps furniture. Still, Simmons’ yarn is nicely self-contained.
It’s a lot of fun, too, once disbelief has been suspended and tongue tucked firmly into cheek.