Murder Rooms
By David Pirie
Arrow (Random House UK) - October 2002
ISBN 0712670998 HB
Historical Crime
Edinburgh 1878 and London 1883

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
Buy a US || UK Copy

If you live in the UK, you might have been watching the Murder Rooms TV series on BBC2 this time last year. This is the novelization of one of the episodes, featuring the young Arthur Conan Doyle at University and after working with Dr Joseph Bell, the model for Sherlock Holmes. While Sherlock Holmes pastiches aren't rare, this story has a more original twist on the old theme. As far as we know, Doyle didn't truly solve cases in tandem with Bell, a la Watson, but he did have a somewhat mysterious life about which remarkably little is known. This is the premise of both the TV series and this book.

Back in 1878, Doyle is at Edinburgh University, studying to become a doctor, while at home his artist father's tenuous hold on reality is slipping fast and the mysterious Dr Waller pays his family's bills. Keen on helping his charismatic mentor, Dr Joseph Bell, Doyle is drawn into what he calls his most nightmarish case, which later appears in censored form as the crimes of Moriarty. It starts off with attacks on women at a time when female students are the object of much opposition at the University and escalates to a frightening crescendo in London where he goes to practice, involving a talking head, the mysterious League of Hope and Sorrow and some alarming scientific experiments.

To say more would reveal too much of this extraordinary tale.

A year ago, I reviewed The Patient's Eyes and although this tale is fascinating, it lacks the cohesion and unity that made the first book so utterly gripping. We could have done with a bit less of foggy streets and brothels a la Jack The Ripper. If this tightening had taken place I feel this would have been a fine tale, as it certainly has all the hallmarks of a gripping Victorian crime novel. It will be interesting to see what the next Murder Rooms tale brings.

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