Arthur Conan Doyle’s young adulthood foreshadows the life of his legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes, down to imperilment by a nemesis who might as well be named Moriarty.
Nearing the end of his medical studies, fledgling doctor Doyle is still the protégé of abrasive Joseph Bell, an unpopular but unquestionably brilliant forensics pioneer (The Patient’s Eyes, 2002). Two major challenges face Doyle as Watson and Bell as Holmes. Despite a recent law, the University of Edinburgh refuses to admit female students. Doyle and Bell become champions of these early feminists. When beautiful redhead Elspeth Scott plans to circumvent sexism by disguising herself as a man, Doyle helps her study after hours, and romance blossoms. Meanwhile, however, a serial attacker is stalking the female employees of Rosie’s, a local brothel. With one exception, his crimes fall short of murder; indeed, his motive seems to have more to do with challenging Bell and Doyle than a conventional criminal pathology. Among the suspects is Sir Henry Carlisle, a frequenter of Rosie’s who has apparently infected his demure wife Sarah with venereal disease. The sleuthing duo solves the mystery, but not in time to catch the surprise perpetrator or prevent further tragedy. But this is only half the story. As Doyle struggles to establish his first practice, the criminal mastermind relentlessly bedevils him and his loved ones.
Wonderfully written psychological suspense, all the more tantalizing for its real-life roots.