Sherlock Holmes has a sense of humor. Of course he does. He even trots it out on occasion, such as when he slips the Mazarin Stone into Lord Cantlemere’s pocket, or finds the ridiculous in a client’s situation. One might argue that once, he even laughed at himself, when Watson scored “a distinct touch” on his friend’s vanity in “The Valley of Fear.” But, in general, Sherlock Holmes takes himself very, very seriously, so we do, too.
Thomas Jefferson Cody, public relations director for the Cincinnati-area* St. Benignus College, and the actual hero of Dan Andriacco’s new mystery series,** also takes himself rather seriously. Unfortunately for him, however, readers probably won’t. And who can blame them? The recently-single Cody is neurotic, envious, a bit of a nag, slightly judgemental, and a trifle immature. He’s easily annoyed by others’ foibles, is sure his (as yet unpublished) detective novels are better than those of his (published) brother-in-law, has a wandering eye, and checks his ex-girlfriend’s relationship status on Facebook regularly.
In other words, he’s a lot like us and, because he’s so relatable, he’s funny.
Jeff Cody lives in the shadow of his flamboyant, more successful brother-in-law,*** Sebastian McCabe–literally, since he has an apartment in the carriage house on the man’s property. However, it’s this association which catapults Jeff’s life from covering campus events, media relations, and handling his difficult boss into a weekend of mystery, danger, and (maybe) romance.
Sebastian McCabe, in addition to holding an endowed chair and being a successful author, is an avid Sherlockian, and he’s used his influence and powerful persuasive skills to convince wealthy businessman Woolcott Chalmers to donate his sizable collection of Sherlockiana to St. Benignus’ library. This is no mean acquisition: the Chalmers Collection includes a copy of Beetons’ 1887 Christmas Annual, 100 manuscript pages of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Bertram Fletcher-Robinson’s personal first edition of HOUN, inscribed by Sir Arthur himself. To celebrate this amazing coup, McCabe organizes a weekend colloquium, to give Sherlockians a chance to hear speakers, mingle, visit the dealers’ room, view the collection in its new home
When the collection’s crown jewels are stolen before the conference has a chance to begin, and a prominent Cincinnati attorney (and Sherlockian collector) is killed not twenty-four hours later, some colloquium attendees find the mystery irresistible. So do McCabe, Cody, and Cody’s ex-girlfriend, reporter Lynda Teal, although their motivations are a little more personal. McCabe, after all, brought the collection to the college in the first place, and Cody needs to end the public relations nightmare as soon as possible. And then there’s the troubling fact that, as far as he knows, Lynda was the last person to see the dead man alive.
And that’s as far as I can go, although I’d love to tell you more. Andriacco gives readers an engaging problem and familiar characters to solve it. If you don’t see yourself in one of them, you’ll see someone you know, and that makes their foibles and triumphs that much more enjoyable. I have yet to attend a Sherlockian conference myself, but I’ve spent enough time in academia (and around geeky obsessives) to appreciate Cody’s world and his slightly jaundiced view of it. Andriacco avoids the temptation to make his two heroes “Holmes” and “Watson.” Sure, McCabe quotes Holmes and applies his methods, but he’s as far from the aesthetic, unclubbable, moody (and really thin) Holmes as it’s possible to be, while Cody is not the hero-worshipping and completely loyal Watson. In fact, he’d be ecstatic if his attempts to use his fictional detective’s methods won out over McCabe’s. And if he did do quite a bit (ok, most) of the legwork, and ended up writing it all down, well, like Watson in HOUN, he’s the one who saw the most action, now, wasn’t he?
Andriacco does cram a lot of action into that Sherlockian weekend. By providing two crimes, which may or not be related, and several characters with enough plausible motivation to commit either or both, he presents the reader with a nicely tangled knot. I will say that while I did figure out the answer(s),✝ there were enough twists and turns at the end to make me doubt my intuition and fear for my favorite character. And, as with any good mystery, suspecting the ending didn’t make getting there any less entertaining.
I have to say, however, that Jeff Cody has one stylistic quirk that I found troublesome. Because he writes in first person, and does it well, the reader stays firmly inside his head. Unfortunately, that makes one privy to some thoughts that seem a bit misplaced. For instance, when, after a harrowing experience, Lynda seeks comfort in Cody’s arms and says she needs a drink, our hero, intoxicated by the danger, her nearness, and her perfume, also sees fit to tell us about one of her favorite websites. This, and similar asides elsewhere, tends to ruin the moment. Jeff, buddy, let us keep the tension. You can share those little details later!
If you’re like me, you read a lot of dark, serious books about dark, serious people doing dark, serious things. Possibly while listening to dark, serious songs. But it’s springtime and sometimes you just need to rip off the dark✝✝ glasses and step out into fresh air and sunshine. Of course there’s nothing at all amusing about theft and murder, but Andriacco’s characters and their lives are so very normal and untormented, his writing style so light, and his observations so witty that No Police Like Holmes is an enjoyable, palate-cleansing romp of a mystery with a little Sherlockian education thrown in. Take it with you to the park or the beach and see if you can catch the culprit first!
No Police Like Holmes is available through the Baker Street Babes website, the MX publishing site, and your regular online bookseller, in both print and e-book form.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 ”Well worth your time and money”
*As someone who lives in the Midwest, I found this very appealing. Not everything in the US has to happen in LA, New York, or Boston.
**It’s billed as a “Sebastian McCabe mystery,” but Cody seems to be the primary character, and steals the show.
***Unless you call a flame-red 1959 Chevy Convertible, marching around campus in a kilt, playing bagpipes, regular use of sleight-of-hand and 19th century speech patterns understated.
✝I rarely do, in mysteries, so I felt the need to brag. Sorry.