Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review: The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher

I've never read the Sherlock Holmes stories so why on earth would I read this tale based on the Sherlock oeuvre? Well, because I am always interested in well done books that use classics as a springboard, of course (and also because I am giving it to my Sherlock loving daughter for Christmas and we believe in pre-reading in this family).

Metropolitan Pictures is a well known movie studio about to make Holmes' adventure from The Speckled Band into a movie. However, Stephen Worth, the writer they've contracted to turn the story into a screenplay hates Sherlock Holmes and the group that reveres him. Worth is also a reprehensible human being. Not wanting to alienate Holmes' most devoted (and mostly quite famous in their fields) fans and unable to fire Worth, Maureen O'Breen, who works in PR at the studio, cooks up the idea of asking the group, called The Baker Street Irregulars, to consult on the film, moving all of the men into a house at, you guessed it, 221B Baker Street, and supplying a housekeeper named Mrs. Hudson (and eventually a Sergeant Watson). During a press party with the Irregulars, Worth arrives drunk, picks a fight, and gets knocked out cold. The party quickly breaks up and when Maureen goes upstairs to "powder her nose" before leaving, she witnesses Worth getting shot but doesn't see the murderer. However, when the police investigate, Worth's body is gone and the clues they find in the room are all from Holmes' stories. The game is afoot. In the course of the investigation, which the Irregulars want to solve themselves, each of them then goes on to have an unusual adventure he relays to the rest of the group as they try, rather badly, to uncover the murderer, who might still be among them.

As this takes both aspects of the Holmes canon as well as unwritten stories that are referred to within the stories in its telling, this is probably best read by those who have read and enjoyed the originals. Even without reading them though, I cheerfully followed the mystery most of the way, only getting slightly confused at the very end (like the lieutenant in the story). The stories relayed by each of the characters were bizarre but entertaining enough. I did have some trouble keeping some of the characters separate in my head throughout. One twist of the novel was fairly predictable while a couple of others were definitely surprising, which I appreciated. This is well written and had moments of good humor in it. There is a little bit of timely political commentary as the Anschluss has recently occurred, although the US is still firmly out of any conflict. The bumbling and infighting amongst the Irregulars in the face of murder is entertaining though so fans of Golden Age mysteries will find this a worthwhile read.

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