This wistful portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in old age is a real departure from Cullin’s previous up-and-down fiction (Undersurface, 2002, etc.).
We meet the Great Detective in 1947, aged 93, retired to his Sussex farm, physically and mentally impaired, though sustained by his many memories; the “beeyard” whose cultivation expresses his lifelong “desire to be a part of the original, natural order,” and the restorative effects of royal jelly and other beneficent natural substances. Cullin’s engaging tale has three deftly interwoven strands: Holmes’s extended postwar visit to Japan, which includes a tour of destroyed Hiroshima and an investigation into his host Mr. Umeyaki’s family history; an avuncular friendship with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro’s son Roger, his devoted apprentice in the art of beekeeping; and the remembered case of “The Glass Armonica,” involving a troubled marriage, alleged communion with both the dead and the unborn, and a woman Holmes could not save—for whose fate he may in fact bear a terrible responsibility. There are missteps: Though there’s no hint of sexual misconduct, Holmes’s habit of nude bathing with handsome young Roger does raise the eyebrow; and Cullin’s generally very successful appropriation of Conan Doyle’s plummy Victorian prose accommodates occasional anachronisms and barbarisms (surely Holmes would never have misused “like” for “as,” as he does herein). But the meat of the story is Cullin’s searching characterization of this ultimate rationalist perturbed and disoriented by decades of political, social and climatic change; unmanned by his lingering survival into a world grown so complex he can no longer do what he had hitherto done to perfection: observed and made sense of things. This extra layer of realistic complexity makes Cullin’s immensely moving seventh outing one of the best of all the Holmes pastiches.
A talented writer’s bold step forward. Let’s hope Cullin isn’t finished with Sherlock Holmes.