Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years: Timbuktu, by Vasudev Murthy, (Poisoned Pen Press), 270 pages, release date 5 January, 2016
A little less than a year ago, I read the first of Vasudev Murthy’s “Missing Years” novels featuring Sherlock Holmes and, of course, his companion Dr. Watson. I enjoyed that read, and I’m glad to say that Holmes and Watson are back again, this time visiting Venice before traveling the Sahara Desert.
The prize they’re searching for is of unimaginable value: the missing half of a parchment that originated with Marco Polo and that contains the secret to eternal life. Later the parchment (one half of it, anyway) was associated with the great Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta. Of course Holmes and Watson aren’t the only ones seeking the parchment: the last surviving descent of Ibn Battuta himself seeks it—as does Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty. Meanwhile, the “great game” is afoot with both Britain and France struggling for power in Morocco.
Holmes shows his usual respect for and quick adoption of different languages and cultures, learning first to speak Arabic and then the language of the Tauregs, a tribal people living in the Sahara who worship the long ago female founder of their society and who serve as his guides in the desert. At other times, Holmes poses as an accountant-priest, sent to Morocco by the Vatican.
One of the pleasures of this book is the multiple voices in which it’s narrated. We hear not only from Holmes and Watson, but also from Battuta’s descendant and Marco Polo himself (by way of a previously unknown travelogue). At first the changes in narrator felt unsettling, but the further I read, the more I enjoyed them. Not only did they allow Murthy to present readers with multiple perspectives, each of the different voices was distinct, reflecting a personality as well as relating events.
I’m waiting for volume three now, and hoping it won’t take longer than another year for it to appear. I’m eager to see where Holmes and Watson—and Murthy—will take me next.
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