Chronicling Sherlock

Book review of The Watson Chronicles


The Watson Chronicles
By Ann Margaret Lewis
Gasogene Books, 2014
294 pages, $22.95
To order:

Since Arthur Conan Doyle’s death in 1930, many authors and filmmakers have taken their turn at writing original stories featuring literature’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his best friend and assistant, Dr. John Watson.

Ann Margaret Lewis, author of Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, has just released her second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Watson Chronicles, told in a series of stories.

The first story, “The Girl Upstairs,” is a classic Sherlock Holmes murder mystery in which Watson meets and develops an affection for Miss Lucyna Modjeska, an understudy soprano at the Savoy Theater and daughter of the murder victim. This opening tale sets the stage for the rest of the stories, which take place from 1902 to 1908. Two of them are classic detective mysteries, one told by Watson as he and Holmes expose a fraud case and the other told by Lucy about a murder she and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft solve together.

The rest of the stories follow the relationship between Watson and Lucy and how they solve a few mysteries of the heart, especially regarding the Holmes brothers.

Lewis demonstrates her thorough familiarity with all things Sherlock, and devotees will appreciate the way she weaves her stories into Doyle’s world and makes many references to other cases and incidents, including the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes’ retirement to Sussex in order to take up beekeeping and the fact that Watson has permission to whisper “Norbury” in Holmes’ ear whenever he perceives the great detective to be going astray in a case.

To my delight, Lewis writes in the Victorian style of Doyle and charmingly reproduces the first-person narration of Watson. For example, when Watson finally gets engaged to Lucy, he describes their first kiss, in part: “I blush to admit I did not want this moment of intimacy to end.”

But is Watson free to marry? Sherlockians know Watson’s wife Mary died. But what about his mysterious first wife, mentioned briefly in “The Five Orange Pips” but never again? Not to worry: Lewis deftly creates a narrative that fills in the gaps and assures Lucy, a devout Catholic, that he is indeed free to marry her. This attention to the details of Lucy’s Catholicism is refreshing. She fasts, she prays, she tries to get a dying man to pray an Act of Contrition with her, and, in an act of pure charity, she befriends Sherlock’s misanthrope brother Mycroft. In fact, if Lewis’ novel has a weakness, it may be that Lucy is too much without flaws: she’s untidy and disorganized, and she admits to the sin of pride, but she overcomes this pride so completely it can hardly be counted.

Still, Watson, Sherlock and Mycroft, as Lucy’s non-Catholic foils, provide plenty of opportunities to pepper the stories with explanations about Catholic doctrine and practice, and this is one of the rare instances in which a volume of popular fiction actually supports the Catholic Church instead of tearing it down.

Entertaining and highly recommended for all ages.

Clare Walker writes from
Westmont, Illinois.