Sherlock Holmes & the Railway Maniac by Barrie Roberts
Allison & Busby - November 2001
ISBN 0749005467
Historical Crime - England & Scotland (various locations) 1907-1914

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
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If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories you might well have read Roberts' other fine novel Sherlock Holmes & The Devil's Grail, a story with just about everything in it crammed into under 200 pages. This is a case set after Holmes had retired to keep bees on the Sussex Downs, vowing that nothing will stir him again…but he had reckoned without his powerful brother Mycroft whose summons can only mean one thing - danger for King and country. Two seemingly unconnected railway crashes don't sound like the stuff of anarchy but it is up to the trusty pair to uncover the connection between a foreign astronomer, Russians and German spies as the war looms ever larger on the horizon.

Sherlock Holmes pastiches are fairly common but I would say that Barrie Roberts writes some of the best. On average he manages to keep to the laconic but action-packed and sensational style of the originals without the addition of superfluous meanderings (although there are some in this book) and out-of-character actions. This is an entertaining story, although the fact that it is set across seven years makes it lose some of the momentum that powered Sherlock Holmes & The Devil's Grail and the bewilderingly long list of suspects that Holmes compiles seems confusing and unnecessary. This is more of a spy thriller than a whodunit really and I personally would have omitted the factual doings of such real folk as the denizens of the Warsaw Restaurant and "Peter the Painter" which seem to belong to another story altogether and confuse the main plot. You'll guess it - there isn't really much there to guess - and you will probably prefer the Devil's Grail adventure if you have read it (if not it comes highly recommended) but nevertheless this is still a diverting yarn for a chill winter's evening.

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