The Unlikely Death by Niko Ford

The Unlikely Death

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In Ford’s debut sci-fi mystery, Sherlock Holmes is the murder victim, but he has the unique opportunity to solve his own death with help from Dr. John Watson, the man imprisoned for the crime.

John Watson had never met Sherlock Holmes before seeing his nearly decapitated body. Nor does he know why he has Sherlock’s blood on his hands: both victim and alleged killer have traces of a memory-wiping drug in their systems. John, now aboard a mining vessel in space, is convicted of the murder, his punishment “sympathetic immersion”: being forced to come to terms with his offense by sharing his cell with Sherlock’s hologram. Sherlock knows he’s dead and is determined to find the true murderer, sifting through facts and crime-scene photos. The human-holograph duo stumble upon a conspiracy that may put everyone on the spaceship in danger. Ford’s winsome variation on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series and characters is helped along by its sci-fi setting. Fans will delight in seeing the stories’ trademarks: familiar faces such as Lestrade, in this case a female lieutenant, as well as Sherlock, a consulting detective back on Earth when he was alive, practicing with an imaginary violin. But Ford commits to her plot and ensures that her derivation isn’t a superficial rendering. For example, there’s a question throughout the novel of Sherlock possibly having feelings; John insists that the hologram isn’t AI and gradually develops empathy for Sherlock. There’s likewise an ambiguous relationship between the two that’s prime for numerous interpretations: mutual respect for one, or even homoeroticism: “You think I’m stupid enough to fall in love with a hologram?” There’s not much in the way of deduction; the two have little evidence to peruse, and they pinpoint suspects using just as much conjecture as deductive reasoning. The final act turns into a rescue mission, the guilty party all but decided and John hoping to save Sherlock by way of a disk containing the hologram. Yet Ford’s story doesn’t rely on its famous protagonists; it’s assertive and indelible and could have been told with any characters.

A sci-fi pairing of Holmes and Watson that makes for a rambunctious, intelligent read.

Program: Kirkus Indie
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