(2016) Paul Cornell, Pan, £8.99, pbk, 358pp, ISBN 978-1-447-27326-4
It is bad enough being a dead Sherlock Holmes, but when someone murders your ghost...Jeesh. But, wait a minute, Sherlock Holmes isnít real, he is only a fictional character, except in the world of Paul Cornellís Shadow Police, ghosts can be created by depth of feelings, and there are enough people living and visiting his version of London with enough love for the fictional consulting detective to have conjured up the ghost of Sherlock Holmes, but now within the confines of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, that ghost is dead, but who, or what, would want to kill a ghost?
This is the third in Cornellís 'Shadow Police' following London Falling and The Severed Streets and is surprisingly lighter in tone Ė well, by about two shades of dark, but having put the members of his Shadow Police though a blood-drenched wringer in the previous book Ė The Severed Streets Ė there is some humour to be had at the expense of all things Sherlockian. In the past with the exploits of his Shadow Police, Cornell has tackled football in the capital and Jack the Ripper, of course, and now we are on to the cityís greatest, imaginary detective. Itís a crowded city as there is a lot of Sherlock 'stuff' going down, with TV series and a movie being shot, so it is one major Baker Street circus and all the fans are out in mass trying to get a glimpse of the stars. Sherlock-mania has never been bigger, then people start being murdered, in a Holmesian fashion, and then comes the biggy, the murder of the ghost of the great man himself, killed by a ceremonial dagger being plunged into his chest. Quick, send for the Shadow Police, led by Detective Inspector James Quill who work out of a grotty little portacabin, such is the high regard for their work, but Quill has literally been to Hell and back, and thatís never good for your mental health, and the rest of his team Ė undercover cops, Kev Sefton and Tony Costain, and crime analyst, Lisa Ross Ė are all in various stages of 'broken'. That is the problem when you have the gift, or rather the curse of 'The Sight'. Even their boss, DS Lofthouse, the one without The Sight, has her own dark secrets and an even darker artefact which is nibbling away at her sanity and her soul. And of course, the Smiling Man, Cornellís own big bad guy is still out there. What they all need is a well-deserved break, a trip to the seaside, not ingenious death upon ingenious death, committed by someone who clearly knows all-things Holmes, who is pulling the strings from the shadows, but for what end?
There is a lot of urban fantasy going on out there, particularly in London, what with that Aaronovitch bloke with his own copper series which has reached book six, and other series are available involving individuals with magical abilities, acting almost as private detectives to solve crimes of an occult nature, but Cornellís take is uniquely his own and probably streets of some of these other series in terms of verve and panache and sheer ingenuity.
Multiple viewpoints, a story dripping with knowledge of the real Londonís past history and myths and legends, and well-anchored in Cornellís own fantastical London. Who Killed Sherlock Holmes is clever, darkly funny, pacey, thrilling, twisty and turny, and satirical, as well. While Cornell has previous form writing Doctor Who books and episodes, somehow I suspect he will not be getting an invite from Messrs Moffat and Gatiss to write an episode of Sherlock. Youíd be a fool not to read this, but an even bigger fool to start here at book three - get thee hence to London Falling, mind the gap.
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