Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years: Japan, by Vasudev Murthy, (Poisoned Pen Press), 284 pages, release date 3 March, 2015
Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years is the second recent novel to place Holmes in Japan (the other was Laurie R. King’s Dreaming Spies). Both are definitely worth a read. I preferred Murthy’s novel for the plotting, while I preferred King’s characterizations.
The Missing Years purports to have been written (rather recently) primarily by Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson, but is accompanied by letters and case notes from a variety of other players, including Holmes himself, Moriarty, and the abbot of a Zen monastery. Murthy’s Watson is rather a curmudgeon, particularly regarding his (female) Poisoned Pen editor, who appears as a very minor character. He is insulted to be receiving editorial advice from a woman and longs for the days when his work was published as is, without stylistic quibbling. To portray Watson in this way seems to me a disservice. Yes, he’s old-fashioned, but Conan Doyle never depicted him as the kind of misogynist he comes across as in spots during The Missing Years.
The Missing Years is a novel of a journey. The case begins and ends in Japan, but much of the novel describes Watson’s travels—first alone, then with Holmes—across East Asia. There are ports of call along the Indian coast, a train ride through the center of the continent, a journey on foot through Angkor Wat, then more time spent at sea.
Many of the characters are not who they seem to be, which adds to the fun of the mystery. Like Watson, the reader has to guess when s/he’s encountered Holmes in disguise. The reader is also left uncertain about villains and allies alike, which inspires a particular sort of engaged reading—many characters’ actions can be interpreted in multiple ways.
In all, this novel offers a promising start to a new series, a new incarnation of old friends beloved by readers everywhere. I trust Murthy’s Watson will grow more respectful toward his editor—and toward “modern” women in general. That will add to the pleasure of spending time with him in the future.