A review of The House at Baker Street
By Michelle Birkby
If you know anything about my book tastes, you know I have an enduring love for anything Sherlockian. This includes the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, spinoff books about Moriarty or Mycroft, other detective novels with a love-to-hate protagonist, and so on. It even includes TV shows of the medical kind (Bones or House, anyone?). For some reason, I have always found it easy to relate to these misunderstood characters. The only thing I’ve ever disliked about these types of stories (especially the original Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) is the blatant sexism and misogyny present. If you’ve read the original stories, you know how much disdain Sherlock has for humans of the female gender, and it makes you hate him a little on more than one occasion. His unconcealed scorn for these women is mentioned throughout the stories, even regarding his landlady, Mrs. Hudson, and John Watson’s wife, Mary. Even though these women are steadfast and so unquestioningly supportive of him and his companion, his misogynistic beliefs don’t waver bit until Irene Adler comes along. Only when Sherlock Holmes sees how adept she is at deceit and how intelligent she is (I mean, she was the only person to ever really fool him in the stories), does he begin to admit that perhaps some of the females in his life aren’t as simple-minded as he deduced.
Now imagine this: I’m in London this summer having the adventure of a lifetime, and I drop by the Sherlock Holmes museum (which is amazing, by the way!). I’m fangirling a little too hard for someone traveling solo, and I walk out onto the street after wandering my way through 221B Baker Street. Right outside the museum I find this small bookstore called ALEF, so of course I go wandering in. In the store on the Suggested Reading shelf I see a Sherlock spinoff book I’ve never read (umm, this never happens), titled The House at Baker Street. I immediately pick it up and realize–to my delight–that this book is written entirely from the perspective of Mrs. Hudson! As I read on, I discover that not only is this book written from the perspective of a well-known, well-loved female character, but the other main characters are the other prominent female characters from the stories (holy feminism, Batman!). Of course, I instantly knew that this would be my souvenir from London, so I bought it and lugged it back to Seattle with me. A week ago, I finally got around to reading it, and (WO)MAN, I cannot wait for the sequel!
The book starts like this: after Sherlock Holmes refuses to take on a case for Laura Shirley, who desperately needs his help to save her reputation and marriage, Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson take pity and promise to solve Laura’s case–without any help from Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The two new detectives are immediately lead on a dark and dangerous journey through the streets of Whitechapel, where the serial killer Jack the Ripper has been snatching his victims. Through the dark twists and turns, they become increasingly aware of the web of crimes in which they’ve become entangled, only to find out that the infamous Irene Adler is somehow involved. They enlist her help in solving the case, and the three get in deeper than ever before. Mrs. Hudson, Mary, and Irene soon find themselves in the center of something much larger than they could have ever imagined. As the story unfolds and the three women put together the puzzle, they become more and more determined to do this on their own–but will that ultimately result in their failure? Readers watch these three fierce, intelligent women tackle every challenge laid before them, sometimes with reckless abandon and nothing but courage and a half-baked plan.
As someone who picks up anything remotely Sherlockian, I can tell you that this book is *hands down* the best Holmes spinoff I’ve read yet. Michelle Birkby not only put her own twist on this book by writing it with typically supporting characters as the protagonists, but she builds on Doyle’s stories with a consistency and grace unmatched by any other. It’s easy to tell by reading this book that Birkby is a major Doyle fan who knows the stories up and down, and wants nothing more than to do them justice. In her book, Birkby takes liberties by giving Mrs. Hudson and Mary their own histories and personalities consistent with the little we know of them from Doyle’s stories. She weaves in her own details with Doyle’s so seamlessly that you won’t even know where his details end and her details begin.
My recommendations: For anyone who enjoys a good mystery, amazing characters, a captivating storyline, and a bit of action, this book is a must-read! (Seriously, even if you’re not a Doyle fan. Just read it.) Not only is Birkby’s character development on point, but her storyline is dark, original, captivating, and mysterious. As someone who often discovers the plot twists less than halfway through detective novels, this one kept me guessing until the very end, which was even more shocking and ruthless than I ever expected from these characters. It was such a joy to read about the skill, strength, and intelligence of both Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson as they comb the streets of London looking for their suspect without any help from the great detective himself. As an added bonus, you even get to know the Baker Street Irregulars more intimately–including their leader, Wiggins, and Holmes’ page boy, Billy. Now who doesn’t love that?!