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The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes

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John Murray, London, 2000
(282 pages)
(first published in India by HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi)

The blurb on the back:

In 1891 the public was horrified to learn that Sherlock Holmes had perished in a deadly struggle with the archcriminal Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Then, to their amazement, he reappeared two years later, informing the stunned Watson: 'I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhasa.'
Nothing has been known of those two missing years until Jamyang Norbu's discovery, in a rusting tin dispatch box in Darjeeling, of a flat packet carrefully wrapped in waxed paper and neatly tied with stout twine. When opened the packet revealed Hurree Chunder Mookerjee's own account of his travels with Sherlock Holmes.
Now, for the first time, we learn of Sherlock Holmes' brush with the Great Game, with Colonel Creighton, Lurgan Sahib and the world of Kim. We follow him north across the hot and dusty plains of India to Simla, summer capital of the British Raj, and over the high passes to the vast emptiness of the Tibetan plateau. In the medieval splendour that is Lhasa, intrigue and black treachery stalk the shadows, and in the remote and icy fastnesses of the Trans-Himalayas good and evil battle for ascendancy. As Patrick French has written, 'Read this, and your view of the great detective will never be the same again.'

It's a good angle, this one. There are those two missing years, a period when Holmes claims that he visited the forbidden city of Lhasa, the first European so to do. As far as I know, no one has ever covered this trip.

Norbu is an expert on Tibetan culture and an activist in the struggle for the liberation of that occupied country. He thus would seem to be pretty well qualified to write on Holmes' journey. He's helped in his endeavours by the absence of Watson, allowing the narrative to be quite legitimately taken by an outsider, in this case Hurree Chunder Mookerjee. You may remember Hurree from Kipling's classic novel Kim, but - apart from a few sideswipes at Kipling's lack of discretion in writing the book - this falls someway short of the promised Rudyard Holmes hybrid.

The whole thing's not entirely satisfactory - the structure's too episodic and the Tibetan propaganda a touch too heavy - but there are some fine moments and it's an honourable endeavour. Oh, and the ending is genuinely touching.

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sherlock holmes