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THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
by Leonard Goldberg
Minotaur, June 2017
303 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250101042


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At the heart of this premise is whether intelligence, talent, and perhaps neurological features can be inherited, and the answer is far from clear. After all, what if authors of Prometheus Unbound and Frankenstein were to have a child? Would that child not publish the greatest poem or novel of the late Victorian era? In reality, those two authors, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley did have a child, Percy Florence Shelley. He proved a decidedly unexceptional student at Oxford, allegedly threw a reviled copy of Shakespeare at someone, and apart from some involvement in amateur home theatricals, produced no artistic work of notice. So much for heredity.

Goldberg, on the other hand, believes in immutable destiny and inherited genius. "We are all prisoners of our past," the epigraph to THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES reads. "It shapes and defines us and can no more be forgotten than changed." That is certainly true of his protagonists, Mrs Joanna Blalock (long-lost daughter of Holmes and Irene Norton, née Adler), and Dr John Watson, Jr, MD. While Conan Doyle's heroes have passed on, "their genes live after them." Unfortunately, so do the genes of Sebastian Moran and other Doylean villains. And even Mrs. Hudson appears to have a modern doppelganger kinswoman, "Miss Hudson."

If this sounds terribly derivative, it is. Still, the novel offers a compelling murder mystery that's genuinely difficult to solve without the help of Mrs Blalock and Dr Watson. A wealthy young man, Charles Harrelston, suspiciously falls to his death, and his sister is worried that her family's "reputation is stained forever." This murder seems part of a series, connected with an adventure out east. It all seems very like Wilkie Collins' THE MOONSTONE crossed with a certain story from Chaucer; which, exactly, I should not reveal.

However, Blalock is brilliant only because, as the child of Sherlock and Irene, she has received a "double dose of this memory gene." While Goldberg innovatively suggests a hidden link between chromosomes and cough syrup, his understanding of human nature is, alas, not as good as Sherlock Holmes's. For example, Watson, Jr points out that Mrs Blalock has "an obvious advantage over" her father, Sherlock: that "people will underestimate her because she is a woman." I never knew that the tyranny of low expectations was so advantageous.

Moreover, the novel as a whole is memorable mainly for its wink-wink recycling of names and basic character features. Yes, the characters struggle to cope with their past—in some cases, their newly discovered past—and this speaks to the fact that nobody is born in a vacuum, that nobody can operate outside of background, influences, expectations. But very quickly, Goldberg's Doylean cast begins to resemble "the most photographed barn in America" from Don DeLillo's WHITE NOISE. It is famous for being famous. There is no other clearly articulated reason why.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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