Today Alex from The Sleepless Reader is here to review a collection of short stories based on the original Sherlock tales. They're written by John Taylor and–most importantly–the audiobook is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch! Tell us everything we need to know, Alex.
John Taylor started writing Sherlock Holmes short-stories for BBC Radio and they were later released in a CD as The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. The idea is that notes on old cases are found by Dr. Watson in a wooden chest in his bureau many years after they happened. The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries we never aired, but got an even better luck: their audiobook is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s set to dethrone Jeremy Brett as the detective’s incarnation.
There are only four stories in this collection. In An Inscrutable Masquerade Sherlock is helping the police convict a man they’re convinced committed murder. In his basement he’s secretly and single-handedly inventing the science of ballistics and gives a warning to Watson: for our safety, and while I’m working on this case don’t leave 221B Baker Street don’t let anyone in. But how could Watson say no to an old friend that comes knocking?
In The Conundrum of Coach 13 an American business man asks Holmes to help him find 5 million in gold bullion that disappear from a highly secured train carriage. In The Trinity Vicarage Larceny the pair travels to the country to help a bishop discover who stole the church funds. A strange figure in a wide-brim hat has been seen around the village and becomes the first suspect. The 10:59 Assassin was my favorite story because Watson did a bit of forensics, Sherlock was able to show off his physical abilities, the end was satisfying and it had the ONLY female character in the four stories.
Writing-wise, Taylor does a good job of using Conan Doyle’s style. There were only a couple of times where I felt the canon wouldn’t have gone so far (e.g. a detailed description of a bullet wound to the head). I wish Dr. Watson hadn’t been so easily duped in the first story (one of my pet-hate tropes is the feeble-minded Watson) and that we’d seen more of the maniac and restless Holmes, but these were short stories of about 30 minutes each and it’s tough to develop both a well-built mystery and characterization.
Cumberbatch narration was great. Even if his American accent isn’t entirely convincing, he redeems himself in making Watson so thoughtful and likable and Sherlock sharp and self-assured. It was difficult to disassociate Cumberbatch from his character and I wonder how many people buy the audiobook just because he narrates it (guilty!). Someone should persuaded him to read the canon.