The creator of Sherlock Holmes does battle with his own Moriarty and unravels an eerie village legend.
Neophyte physician Arthur Conan Doyle awakens to find himself trapped in a dark room, with no memory of recent events and no means of escape. At length, he learns that his captor is Thomas Neill Cream, a dashing real-life figure of unmitigated evil. To facilitate his plot, Cream has insinuated himself into the lives of Doyle’s friends, the Morland family. Daring and painful physical effort gain Doyle his freedom. Half-dead, he treks the countryside until he’s eventually reunited with his mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University. After initially questioning the frenzied Doyle’s sanity, Bell nurses his old student back to health. The duo tracks Cream to the remote town of Dunwich and the eerie legend of its heath, haunted by a centuries-old witch. In the late-17th century, Dunwich outsider Mary Goddard was visited by angry neighbors who accused her of witchcraft. She escaped into the dense woodland of the heath, repeatedly eluding her would-be executioners. A catalogue of local atrocities followed, all attributed to her. Recently, wealthy eccentric Oliver Jefford, a newcomer to Dunwich Heath, has disappeared. Doyle and Bell hope and fear that tracking this mystery will lead them to the villainous Cream.
Pirie’s third Doyle homage (The Night Calls, 2003, etc.) again boasts deft period yarn-spinning and terrific writing.