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Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes
By Jamyang Norbu
I finally decided to tackle some of my unread pastiches and spent a bit of time reading The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu. It seemed a much safer bet than the mammoth Siam Question and somewhat more intriguing as well. The basic premise was essentially to document the hows and whys of Holmes visit to Tibet during the great hiatus. The intriguing bit is that the amusing Babu, Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, of Rudyard Kipling's classic work, Kim, narrates the story.  As a fan of the Flashman books as well as being interested in the British presence in India, I found the book to be a vital addition to my collection. By making the narrator someone other than Watson, the author did himself a great favour. The biggest fault with most pastiches is the inability of the author to effectively mimic the voice of Watson. Thankfully Norbu doesn't try, and it has been far too long since I read Kim to take exception with the voice of Huree.
The story begins with Holmes arrival in India, as Sigerson of course. Huree is an agent of the Raj and is assigned to keep an eye on the unlikely foreigner. I rather liked that one of Holmes' first lines to Huree was "You have been in Afghanistan I perceive." That one familiar line would pretty much define the relationship between these two characters.  Much of the next few chapters are spent in creating a bond between these two unlikely fellows and all handled rather effectively I thought. The characterization of Holmes is fairly good, even if he is prone to quoting a bit too much Horace. He is also somewhat distant, and is clearly exploring, to some degree, the meaning of life. Myself, I was expecting Holmes to become involved at Mycroft's request in the fascinating double-play of Kipling's Great Game, which surprisingly, he doesn't. Holmes is of course on the run from the minions of the late Professor Moriarty, which begs the question as to why he would venture into Moran's home ground, and is besieged on all fronts. After an encounter with a giant red leech and a group of dacoits or more correctly Thugs, we move onto the trip to Tibet. The intrigues and action are both excellent. Norbu knows his plot pacing.

The journey is not quite as evocative as I had hoped, as it goes rather quickly, which progresses the story admirably, but leaves me without the details of Indian life that I had hoped for.  On arrival in Tibet, we find that Holmes has been expected and is requested to help defend the life of the youthful Dalai Lama to be. He turns the request down flat, but of course ends up doing the right thing. It is on the night of the attack that brings Holmes round that the story suddenly veers into left field. It was at this point that what I thought was going to be one of the better pastiches that I had ever read turned suddenly sour. While I expected a good deal of mysticism in this story, I certainly wasn't prepared for the revelations presented here. I found myself thinking of Robert Lee Hall's
Exit Sherlock Holmes rather than Kipling's "Kim". Pretty much the last thing I was expecting actually. The revelation of the identity of the "Dark One" who was behind the whole thing left me cold, particularly as I was half expecting Fu Manchu to make an appearance. Well, he didn't, but I won't spoil the finish for any of those curious enough to tackle this book, but I will say that a good deal of paranormal activity takes place and that the motivation for Holmes trip to Tibet is a huge let down. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book, but can't give it the recommendation that I had hoped for. The writing style is exemplary for a pastiche, as is the representation of Holmes, but...in the end I was not satisfied. If you enjoy the X- Files and don't mind mixing Holmes with the paranormal, then you really will love this, but for me, it missed the mark.

Originally published by
Harper Collins Publishers India, the book is now readily available in UK and US editions.
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