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Reviewed: Holmes Of The Raj
The writer of pastiche who takes Sherlock Holmes from the comfortably familiar environs of London and plunks him down in a far off place is something of a brave, if perhaps naive, fellow. As tempting as it must be to break with formula and inject some superficial novelty into the proceedings, the unwary writer risks losing the comfortably familiar situations and atmosphere that are so very much crucial elements to the enduring success of the Canon. Unfortunately, losing the charm and atmosphere of London is but one of the problems with Vithal Rajan’s collection of short interconnected stories that make up HOLMES OF THE RAJ.

In The Case of the Murdering Saint, Holmes and Watson are invited to India by an agent of the Ranee of Kanchee to prove that a holy man is not the self-confessed murderer he would appear. It is a flimsy reason for Holmes to travel such a distance, but it is strengthened by a request from Mycroft Holmes on behalf of the Home Office, since political upheaval, based on religious instability, may result from the Shankaracharya’s conviction. Once there, Holmes and Watson find themselves on an extended trip and embroiled in a number of other odd cases and investigations.

In The Bite Worse Than Death we find Watson discovering how malaria is carried and Holmes solving the Ripper case, in The Naga Baiga of Moogli Hills we encounter what is obviously supposed to be the inspiration for Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, next up is another Kipling inspired piece, Kim and Kim Again which also features a character with the unlikely name of Clark Gable; I need hardly say that things are not quite as they would seem! In Art, Crime and Enlightenment Holmes brushes up on his art appreciation and has, before heading back to England, an unlikely encounter with none other than that staple of pastichery, Professor Moriarty. The final story The Indian Summer of Sherlock Holmes is set 25 years later and has our heroes recalled to India to help maintain stability, and are aided in their endeavors by a fellow named Ganga Din, on the eve of the First World War.

While the stories are certainly quite readable, and very rich in authentic Indian colour, character and political concerns, Rajan doesn’t come close to achieving the Watsonian voice one hopes for in good pastiche, largely due to a distinct lack of any sort of dialogue. There are little to no instances of Holmesian revelatory detecting and to make matters worse, Rajan gives no sense of time lapse and litters the stories with a seemingly endless string of real life, and literary, public figures including the likes of Shaw’s Colonel Pickering, the aforementioned Kipling and some of his characters, Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant, the Duke of Clarence and even a young Mohammad Ali Jinnah! Instead of solid pastiche, the reader will find himself faced with what amounts to little more than a vaguely engaging Indian travelogue narrated by Watson!

Bottom Line: A relatively weak effort at pastiche that is likely to be of more interest to Sherlockian collectors rather than readers, since it isn’t everyday that a Sherlock Holmes pastiche is published in India!
Holmes of the Raj
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Holmes Of The Raj
Author: Vithal Rajan
First Published: 2006 -  Greenbird Book
(Writers Workshop –162/92 Lake Gardens, Kolkata 700 045, India)
ISBN: 81-8157-514-8 (Hardcover)
Price: Rs. 300 (Rupees) approx. $15.00 USD

Reviewed by: Charles Prepolec