review: the red tower

Sherlock Holmes: The Red Tower by Mark A. Latham (2018)

Here’s what you need to know. If you are a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories written by A. Conan Doyle, then you should read this book. If your only experience with Holmes and Watson is through television or film, then you should read this book. If you think Holmes is the main character of these stories, well…you’ll have to have a little patience. There is a whole lot to like about Mark A. Latham’s latest contribution to the Sherlock Holmes collection of books currently being published by Titan Books. Sherlock Holmes: The Red Tower is just the fourth book of the year to get a five-star rating from me. I loved this book and couldn’t have asked the author to do anything more, and one of the best parts is that I had no idea what the solution to the puzzle was until I got to the very end of the book. The Red Tower is a great read, and though it’s not currently available from my local library, it was worth every single dollar from my book budget.

The story begins with a somewhat emotional foreword from Dr. John Watson. He explains that the story he is about to tell us concerns events that took place in 1894, not long after Sherlock Holmes’ return from the dead and the death of his wife, Mary. Careful readers will immediately notice the diametrical opposition in which we are set to view Watson and Holmes. Although Watson has, over the years, started to employ some of the same skills of observation espoused by his friend Holmes, he still allows his emotions and own personal experiences to color his deductions and worldview. While he is not as different from Holmes as he was at the beginning of their association, he still remains the character through which we get a greater understanding of Holmes himself. Further still, it is through his association and friendship with Holmes and his narrative of their adventures that we see the ways in which Watson grows, develops, and changes as a character. Watson does change and grow, while Sherlock remains the same, and this is only one of the reasons I’m in the camp of readers who identify Watson as the main character of the stories. The story of The Red Tower is very much about Watson and his struggle to move forward after the death of his wife and start living again.

Many of the Sherlock Holmes stories begin with Watson and Holmes at 221B Baker Street. The Red Tower is different in that it begins with Watson traveling from London to Berkshire to spend a weekend at the country estate of his friend, James Crain, the Lord Beving. Crain is an old friend of Watson’s and his wife, Mary, and Watson looks forward to reconnecting with him. He also plans to use the time out of London to decide whether or not he will sell his medical practice and leave the home where he and Mary lived as husband and wife. He’s reluctant to leave the house and return to the life of a bachelor as well as his rooms in Baker Street, but determined to make a decision by the time he returns to London. Like Watson, Crain has lost someone very dear to him—his mother died several years ago and he has not been able to move on from her death or forward with his life. Indeed, he is intended to be a mirror image for Watson. After Mary’s death, Watson consulted a spirit medium in the hope of making some kind of communication with Mary, but his experiences only further made him suspicious of spiritualism and those proclaiming themselves to be able to speak with the dead. Crain has also consulted a medium—Madame Farr—but unlike Watson, he is a true believer. Crain has invited Watson to the weekend party with the hope that his skepticism regarding spiritualism will be overcome by Crain’s guest of honor, Madame Farr. Should Watson give his stamp of authenticity to Madame Farr’s skills as a spirit medium, Crain expects that such validation by a man of science and the known associate of Sherlock Holmes would allow Madame Farr to help more people reconnect with their departed loved ones. Early in his visit, Madame Farr does a tarot card reading for Watson that causes him great unease, and that night, he sees an apparition that looks like the ghost of Mary. Thus Watson’s time at Crain Manor is greatly unsettling for him, and though he tries to employ Holmes’ logical rationality while observing all the events unfolding around him, Watson’s emotions and previous experience with spiritualism continue to color his conclusions.

As I said above, if you are in the camp of readers that sees Sherlock as the main character of the stories, then you’ll have to be patient because the Great Detective does not appear in the narrative until Chapter 9 (about 40% of the way through the novel). In this way, The Red Tower reminds me a lot of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where Sherlock is MIA for a great portion of the story (in fact, Holmes makes a direct reference to this adventure in the novel). Watson calls upon his friend to come to Crain Manor to investigate the death of one of the weekend party guests, suspecting foul play due to the fact that the death occurs in a locked room. Sherlock comes at once, and Watson relates every single detail he can remember.  Although he is at first hesitant to confess to believing he has seen the ghost of his dead wife, he reveals this event to Holmes as well. I point to this moment in particular because when Holmes learns of this specter appearing to his friend, he is greatly incensed. Emotion is not something we see from Sherlock often, but we see it in this moment. He implores Watson to be sure of what he believes to have seen, and when Watson confirms that he does believe he saw Mary’s ghost, Sherlock’s resolve to expose Madame Farr as a fraud intensifies exponentially. It is in this moment where we see the depth of the friendship between Sherlock and Watson. It’s genuine and poignant, and it’s only one of many clues that shows Latham’s appreciation for the original canon of stories and understanding of the characters Doyle created. He knows what makes Watson and Sherlock tick, and it makes reading his novels within this collection incredibly enjoyable and engaging.

Read this book. If you like it, I recommend reading Latham’s first book in this collection, A Betrayal in Blood, which is also excellent. I simply cannot wait for Latham’s next Sherlock and Watson story (please let there be another soon!). Five stars and an A+ grade.

Have you read The Red Tower? What did you think?

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