[Peer Review] The Disappearance of Mr James Phillimore

Disclosure: This is another review of book by a fellow Sherlockian writer, Dan Andriacco. I am not personally familiar with Dan, but I got a free review copy from MX Publishing, our mutual publisher.

This is a bit of an unusual novel. It’s not a book featuring Sherlock Holmes, but rather a mystery novel about a detective who is a mystery writer and avid Sherlockian. And yet, it contains a Sherlock Holmes pastiche within it, which is part of the story. It is also the fourth in an ongoing series, but I haven’t read the other three books. All in all, it seems like it would be a hard book to jump in with, but I found it to be a very easy read, and quite enjoyable.

The premise is that the narrator, Jeff Cody, is on his honeymoon in Europe. He spends part of that time in London, where he meets with his friends and brother-in-law, Sebastian McCabe, who is an English professor, mystery novelist, and amateur sleuth. They get drawn into a series of murders, etc. etc. etc. As such, this book is operating on a number of layers:

Straight-Up Mystery: As a mystery, it’s not bad. The end is a bit rushed and a little ham-fisted, but it played fair and kept me guessing. Mystery fans will find it enjoyable, I think. The story does shift back in forth a time a lot at the start, but it does settle down pretty quickly.

Sherlock Holmes Lore: Most of the characters are Sherlockians (American Holmes fans), Holmesians (British Holmes fans), or otherwise part of the culture. The narrator, who is not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, ends up as a great foil for the various characters explaining the nuances of the canon and the various references they toss around.

And yet, there’s a strange bit of meta happening here: the characters are all aware of the canon to various degrees, and are aware of how various elements of the main story parallel the canon, but the references are not only between characters inside the story, but also in the story itself (for example, the eponymous disappearance is actually a reference Watson makes to another case in the text of “Thor Bridge”). It’s written off in a sort of “How odd that this seems to match up with the canon,” but it takes a while for the dissonance to resolve within the book.

Pastiche: As I mentioned, there’s a Sherlock Holmes short story pastiche within the novel itself. It’s actually pretty good, and follows the formula well.

Travelogue: The characters are from Ohio and travelling in London. I am also from Ohio and have been to London (my mother was also born in England), so I have a particular empathy for this viewpoint. The narrator knows nearly nothing about England, and his frequent “pip pip cheerio”-style comments and observations are sometimes painful. The writer’s knowledge of the area seems spot-on (since, again, I’ve been to many of those places myself), and I understand that the writer needed to have this perspective to be able to explain the events to readers unfamiliar with London. I also understand that most Americans unfamiliar with London would hold similar opinions and views. But it still felt painful to me, and my personal sympathy for the narrator was diminished. I think this is a highly personal point, and I think many casual American readers would be just fine, but it’s worth noting.

Conclusion

It’s a bit of an odd duck of a book, but it’s a surprisingly light and enjoyable read. If you like amateur sleuth mysteries with a heavy dose of Sherlockania mixed in for flavor, you’ll enjoy this book, and quite possibly the other books in the Cody/McCabe series.

Blurb from the publisher:

The Disappearance of Mr James Phillimore is available from all good bookstores including  Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

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