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Exit Sherlock Holmes
The Great Detective's Final Days

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Grafton, London, 1987
(price: 2.95; 272 pages)
(first published in Great Britain by John Murray, 1977)

dedication: For my father

The blurb on the back:

October 1903. Moriarty is back in London - he too survived the Reichenbach Falls. Holmes goes to ground, leaving Watson like so much bait to draw the quarry. But the subsequent astonishing revelation and confrontation at 221B Baker Street is only the first in a shattering series of blows to be dealt to Watson's (and our) view of Holmes. Until now we have known only the skimpiest details of his early life - and then only what he himself, a fiercely secretive man, chose to reveal. Where did he acquire his many different skills? Why did he tell Watson so little about his brother Mycroft? And what was the true relationship between Holmes and his archfoe Moriarty? Mysteries and enigmas rise to envelop Watson in his quest for the truth like the yellow fogs of Victorian London. Can he ever pin down the true identities of Holmes and Moriarty - and the true meaning of their lifetime duel?

Ever wondered just what was the relationship between Holmes and Moriarty? Why no one has ever seen the two of them together? Well, here's your answer. As Moriarty himself puts it: 'We are closer than brothers - and further apart than any two beings can be.'

Also answered: Why was Holmes' violin-playing so damn horrible and atonal?

It's a difficult one to summarise, this book, since its principal value lies in the shock revelation of the ending - which is genuinely inventive - and it would be a rotten trick to give it away. Suffice to say that it contains most of the elements you need from a Holmes pastiche. All the peripheral figures are here, from Moriarty and Mycroft through Mrs Hudson and Billy the page to a full triumvirate of Scotland Yard favourites - Gregson, Lestrade and Athelney Jones; plus there's a rare appearance by Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, now grown into an adult and a successful actor under the name Frederick Wigmore. It's also got the traditional revelation that things we had assumed to be true are in fact a deception - the very existence of Mycroft, for example, is called into question.

Where it's less satisfying is the almost total absence of Holmes himself. The story starts with him retiring to Sussex, and thereafter we spend most of our time with Watson. Admittedly he's accompanied by Wiggins for a substantial chunk of it, but that doesn't really make up for our loss.

The brief appearances of Holmes lift the story, but mostly the book is worth reading for its creative theory about the origins and early years of the great man.

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