|Reviewed by Shari Thornton|
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|Reviewed - Night Watch:
A Long-Lost Adventure in Which Sherlock Holmes Meets Father Brown
|Night Watch, by Stephen Kendrick, is an unusual mystery novel set in a church on Christmas Day, in 1902. Though Sherlock Holmes is not often found in such a setting, Kendrick’s novel provides an interesting twist. Unfortunately, an important part of the final solution becomes clear far too early on, spoiling the mystery. Still, the atmosphere, detail and theological twist provide for a good read.
Sherlock Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, and England’s Prime Minister, call in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate the death of a priest. The mutilated remains are found in a London Church where meetings of world religious leaders were secretly taking place. At the church, Holmes and Watson meet Father Brown, a young Catholic priest assigned as translator to an aging Cardinal. As the night wears on, Holmes and Watson follow a series of red herrings, and more deaths are discovered. Still the famous duo seems to solve the mystery in less than 24 hours. However, Father Brown has other ideas and ties up some “loose ends” of his own.
|Stephen Kendrick is the Parish Minister of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Princeton, earned a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School, and received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the Hollins College Writing Program. His articles have appeared in several Christian magazines and his keen interest in Sherlock Holmes is evident in his book Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes.
If readers are expecting to find in Night Watch the stereotypical Holmes without a shred of theology or emotion, then they might want to read something else. In Night Watch, Kendrick tentatively exposes a side to Holmes that few readers have seen before unless they have read Kendrick’s earlier work. Having set the mystery in the midst of quite varied religious influences allowed Kendrick to have Holmes reflect upon and make use of the trivial bits of knowledge gleaned while he traveled the world during the Great Hiatus. The sleuth’s sharp senses are put to the task taking in everything that could have the least bearing upon the case, from tiny beads found near the body to the floor plan of the church. Night Watch is full of small details that help to create a colourful and convincing world within the confines of the London church and parish house.
Some parts of the book made Sherlock Holmes to look exceedingly two-dimensional and disinterested, particularly when questioning the participants. In other Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson as narrator provides comments about his perceptions of slight changes in Holmes’ expression and manner indicating hidden thoughts or at the least that Holmes is deeply interested in the responses to his questions. Unfortunately, this feature of many Holmes stories is missing from Night Watch.
In other works, Holmes is often described as a sort of critical detecting machine, but in this book, he uncharacteristically trusts the responses the world leaders provided to his questions. Many of the explanations given were too neat and tidy, and all too often accepted by Holmes at face value. This trust allowed Holmes to look more fallible than in any of Conan Doyle’s stories by falling for not just one, but several red herrings. However, these false leads were used well, succeeding in drawing out the mystery and turning the reader’s attention away from other important clues.
One disappointing aspect of the book was that for the most part Father Brown did not make a significant investigative appearance until near the end of the book. On the back of the book, it implied that he would investigate more than he appeared to in the storyline. Father Brown did show up frequently, but not to the extent that the cover would lead one to believe.
Interestingly, one of Kendrick’s two solutions to the problem was not very predictable, while the other was all too predictable. Holmes’ solution to the mystery was not very easy to guess in advance because he used a large amount of information not found at or directly related to the scene of the crime. However, for Father Brown’s solution Stephen Kendrick made the mistake of using one of the most predictable mystery formats by allowing a guilty party to be an involved character who was trusted and questioned little.
Kendrick succeeds with the book by using solutions not directly related to the situation discovered at the beginning of the book. This provides quite a challenge to readers who, like Watson, want to try to solve the mystery along with Holmes. However, enough bits of information are revealed during the course of the novel that it may be possible for readers to arrive at a similar solution to one of the ones presented.
Night Watch presents Holmes in a slightly different setting, but unfortunately, it is only looking at how he uses unusual bits of info and the bit of theological interplay that makes the book truly interesting. For fans of Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, I recommend getting a different book.
Shari Thornton is an active member of The Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is an enthusiastic Sherlockian, frequently contributing to many discussion forums, and maintains
a Holmes site A Sherlockian Scrapbook at http://scrapbook.holmes.net/