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BODY ON BAKER STREET
by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, September 2017
304 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 1683312996


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

With ELEMENTARY, SHE READ, Vicki Delany, a former president of the Crime Writers of Canada, inaugurated the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries. This series follows the exploits of one Doyle, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room and Emporium, a fan mecca in contemporary West London—Massachusetts. The era and location of Holmes's universe aren't the only details of the Sherlock Holmes canon that Delany alters. More intriguingly, most of her characters, though obvious alter egos of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, are women. Refreshingly, they're still full-fledged characters and rational creatures. They pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

In this second Bookshop adventure, the rational, cynical Gemma Doyle organizes a very off-the-cuff reading and book signing event for author Renalta van Markoff. This fantastically named novelist writes Holmes spinoffs with the premise that Mrs. Hudson is the glamorous secret co-consultant and even more secret lover of Holmes. Female readers, especially, lap up "Desdemona Hudson." But van Markoff also has enemies, including a curmudgeonly, male Holmes purist and a woman who claims van Markoff stole her intellectual property—or, at any rate, her idea. She also travels with a put-upon young assistant, Linda, without whom she clearly wouldn't be able to function. So, when van Markoff suddenly dies, apparently of poisoning, at the podium in Gemma's shop, there are quite a few potential suspects. Doyle decides to find out which of them did it.

BODY ON BAKER STREET will raise knowing chuckles from fans of the Holmes universe and is to be commended for its experiments with gender. Even more impressive is its digs at the businesses of bookselling and publishing, entrepreneurship and fan culture. For all these reasons, it makes for an enjoyable read. It's not the most innovative Holmes spinoff, nor the most innovative mystery, published lately. Whodunit is easy to guess well before the final chapters. A somewhat similar solution terminates another recent murder mystery set in the world of publishing, Anthony Horowitz's MAGPIE MURDERS.

Still, a visit to the Sherlock Holmes bookshop is well worth it for its witty, accessible insights on how people read a literary mythos like the Holmes universe, and how they contribute to it, or aim to do so. I look forward to Gemma Doyle' next adventure.

§ 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, August 2017

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