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BOOK REVIEW: The Adventure of the Colonial Boy by Narrelle M. Harris

| 26 June 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Adventure of the Colonial Boy by Narrelle M. Harris

Improbable Press
February 2016
Paperback, $14.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

6.5/10

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You’ve probably noticed the explosion of Holmesian retellings in the last few years, what with the two RDJ and Jude Law movies; BBC’s Sherlock, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; and the American series Elementary, featuring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Aside from these screen-based adaptations, there are also countless retellings in written form.

With so many options out there, it can be hard to know just where you’re joining the story and what is going on. The best can be picked up by readers with only a little knowledge without losing them along the way, filling the important information in as it goes along.

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy takes place two years after The Final Problem, as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, used in the development of both Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and the final episode of Sherlock season 2.

 

Watson has done his grieving for Holmes and has suffered through further tragedy in the interim.

The last miscarriage, three months ago, had been the most devastating of all. All his medical knowledge and skill had proven useless, just as all his courage and strength had been useless when Holmes had met his end. Their daughter was birthed dead, the cord around her little neck. Mary had bled and bled and bled from the arduous labour and fruitless delivery, and nothing could be done. Mother and daughter died hours apart. Their new beginning had become instead an echo of a bloody battlefield death.

Then a telegram from Melbourne, Australia intrudes on his grief, featuring the words Holmes so often used to summon him. Words Watson never included in the stories he published about their adventures. Words only he and Holmes could know.

Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same. – S.H.

Both suspicious and desperate to believe that Holmes may not, after all, be dead, Watson goes as immediately as the sea voyage will allow. Soon Holmes and Watson are together again, on an adventure through Bohemian Melbourne and rural Victoria, following a series of murders linked by a repulsive red leech and one of Moriarty’s lieutenants.

What follows is a story of a crime, along with grief, forgiveness, and so much awkwardness between two people who were closer than friends, but who never put into words how they felt. Too many words lie unsaid between the Great Detective and his biographer. Too much that they feel is a secret.

 

Harris pulls the reader in immediately, combining words in such a way as to leave them feeling raw and bereft in all the right places. I’ve loved her voice in everything I’ve read so far, though that voice was somewhat subdued in this one, offering a story that felt truer to the original Sherlock Holmes stories in terms of tone.

This speaks to her meticulous research, and her desire to represent Arthur Conan Doyle’s world loyally, but with one major difference. The fact that her story features a same sex couple in 1893 in Australia, a time and place when GLBTQ wasn’t a thing and homosexuals were prosecuted, is a rather drastic change. Though this particular twist is far from unheard of in recent times, what makes Harris’s story stand apart from a lot of the others is that it is set in the time of the original, and the characters do have to deal with these issues in realistic ways for the time, but the story isn’t only about their relationship and the difficulties they face. There is a real mystery afoot, and the story is about the adventure the two embark upon.

My one major issue with this book wasn’t the story itself, but rather the layout, which reminded the reader at every turn of the page that this was published by a small press, and a new one at that.

These formatting problems included:

  •  Page numbers at the bottom of the dedication page and the copyright page, as well as in the end-matter.
  • Chapter one started on the back of the dedication page, suggesting an attempt to keep the page count down for cost purposes, but there are five blank pages at the end of the book.
  • The font was not justified throughout the body of the story, but the acknowledgements and the blurbs for their titles also available or forthcoming in the endmatter were justified. I was able to get my hands on a copy of the other title they’ve released so far, and it is formatted in much the same way.

You can call me a formatting snob if you like, but when you read a hundred or more books per year, all with a certain kind of professional formatting, the ones without it really stand out. And, while the page number and the lack of a break after the dedication page serve as not-so-great first impressions, they are quickly forgotten once one starts reading the book itself. Unfortunately, the formatting serves as a page-by-page reminder that something is not quite right. It breaks up the flow, and stops the reader from being able to lose themselves in the story quite so much.

So, while I did enjoy the story Harris told, and while the formatting wasn’t the be all and end all in terms of enjoyment, I may well have enjoyed this story more if able to lose myself in it, rather than slipping into subconscious editing mode.

Stephanie O’Connell

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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