So Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a weird fantasy Holmes and Watson pastiche, which very nearly works.

A part that does work is the setting. Everything takes place in an ancient city, one third of which is sunken beneath the waves and ruled by Lovecraftian elder gods; there are portals to different realities everywhere; and it overall feels like a cross between Victorian London and Max Gladstone’s Craft books. A+ for atmosphere.

What works less well is the treatment of the main characters. Sherlock becomes Sheherezade Haas, a sorceress with eldritch powers and deductive abilities; Watson becomes John Wyndham, a trans refugee of a demon-king theocratic state and wounded veteran of eternal interplanar wars. All good so far. But in giving Sheherezade mystical abilities, she also goes from being a Holmes-style asshole into being flat-out evil, murdering people at a whim for her own convenience and/or amusement. This mostly happens in backstory or offscreen, because the author doesn’t want their protagonist to come off as an antihero, but to me at least, this is firmly lodged in antihero territory.

The other thing that doesn’t quite work is the style. It’s meant to be very clever, with dialogue dripping with banter and witty asides, and it comes close. But coming close ends up feeling like you’re trying really hard to be clever, which is very different than actual wittiness. One particularly grating example is that Wyndham will elide Sheherezade’s frequent swearing with things like, ‘“What the heck is going on!” she shouted, only she didn’t say “heck.”’

The first time, it’s lightly amusing. But by the time you read through this book, you’ll have gotten to, I don’t know, the dozenth? twentieth? time seeing a similar construction, and it does not retain its power to amuse.

Unfortunately, this is a book whose premise is better than the execution. It sounds great, but it doesn’t deliver. Not really recommended.


{{}} said {{timeAgo(comment.datetime)}}