Prolific Thomas, who’s made a cottage industry of “newly discovered” Holmes cases (The Execution of Sherlock Holmes, 2007, etc.), presents five tales starring the iconic sleuth.
In the title story, prim, middle-aged Alice Chastelnau appeals to Holmes for help when her two loutish half-brothers Roland and Abraham, virtual outcasts in their village, disappear. After an apparent fight on the dangerous sandbars of their small coastal home, Sutton Cross, the two pariahs have vanished with scarcely a trace. The lone piece of physical evidence is a tiny pebble Miss Chastelnau brings to Holmes. After she leaves, he assiduously rubs it to reveal a valuable jewel. A visit to forbidding Sutton’s Cross yields danger and more surprises, like the body washed up onshore. Is it one of the brothers—and if so, which? Of the four other adventures, “The Case of the Tell-Tale Hands” concerns a prodigal heir whose erratic behavior causes his titled cousin to worry; “The Case of the Portuguese Sonnets” is a tale of blackmail involving Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems; “The Case of Peter the Painter” features an anarchists’ riot right in front of Holmes’ residence on Baker Street; and “The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram” discloses Holmes’s heretofore unknown work as a cryptographer during World War I.
Thomas stretches the frames for Holmes’s cases to historical niches previously unexplored. Though not a great stylist, he’s a meticulous plotter, and the enticing puzzles seem just as long as they need to be.