Released a month after the recently reviewed "Murder at Sorrow's Crown"', Scottish author Stuart Douglas returns to Titan's "Holmes" adventures, following his sublime 2015 debut, "The Albino's Treasure", a tale of lost paintings, royal conspiracies and Fu Manchu.
This time around, we find that Sherlock Holmes is burnt out by government missions, courtesy of Mycroft. However, he finds himself reinvigorated when he hears reports of another Holmes, seemingly battling crime in the growing heart of America, New York. With Watson in tow, Holmes ships over to the States only to find his doppelganger vanished, and the cream of Manhattan society strangely unwelcoming to him...
Douglas starts off well
Like "Sorrow's Crown," we have a Holmesian tale that feels a lot more like a proper investigation over an adventure ride. This gives "Counterfeit Detective" the proper Conan Doyle flavour as our leads scour clues and build the case. One trait Douglas firmly carries over from "Albino" is the level of historical detail concerning New York of the era. He very much succeeds at putting you in the environment, going from the polish of brownstone Manhattan, the dockyards of New York, to the slums of the Five Points that evoke Scorsese's epic.
The #novel is low-key on the action front, being more squarely focused on the mystery of the socialites' odd behaviour and the false Holmes. However, there's plenty of murder and deception to keep the stakes trundling along, and Douglas writes a supremely engaging and often amusing Holmes-Watson pairing. They really feel like old friends, often trading jabs and communicating just with an expression or gesture.
Douglas' book has shortcomings
"Counterfeit" ends up feeling a good deal less ambitious than the sprawling, franchise crossover that was 'Albino'. If you were sold on the notion of a high octane game of wits between Holmes and his mentally-equal double, you will be very disappointed: the copycat is barely a character in the novel, being out of reach most of the time. Ultimately, whom the villain ends up being, and what this other Holmes is up to, is nothing special, and their scheme just feels terribly ordinary for a Holmes tale (doubly so, given this is the same range that has seen Holmes battle Martians and team up with Houdini). A premise like this feels like it should be bolder and more daring than it ultimately is.
A smaller annoyance is that, while often engaging to read about, Douglas Holmes seems a lot harsher to Watson than normal, which can be a little grating as you just want to smack him for being condescending. There's a fine line between arrogant but cunning, and then terribly smug and pompous, especially in the second half as the pieces come together.
So, what to make of it?
While Blasting News doesn't do ratings, this is the letter-perfect definition of a 3 and a half star novel: well composed and structured, but lacking that special something to truly elevate it above its peers. It's a premise that demands something greater, and yet, the book was engrossing enough to merit the purchase. Douglas' descriptive prowess, his superb pacing, and continuous posing of bigger questions make it fly by. #Sherlock