Book Review of the Week:
Unquiet Spirits by Bonnie MacBird
In October 2015, Bonnie MacBird published her first Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Art in the Blood (not to be confused with the similarly named 2008 Holmes novel by Rainer Jaeger). It was an intriguing tale of Holmes’s investigation into missing children and missing art, and I fondly recall buying it at the front desk of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street, having Bonnie autograph it, and then reading it during one of my extensive Holmes Pilgrimages. Now comes Unquiet Spirits, the second (of at least three) of MacBird’s Holmes novels. Sadly, I didn’t get to read it while in England on another Pilgrimage, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Unquiet Spirits is much bigger than its predecessor, with a more ambitious scope. The title refers both to the whisky produced by an ambitious Scottish family and also the ghosts said to haunt their ancestral home. There are layers of secrets binding this family going back a generation, some not revealed until the very end. As Holmes investigates, certain matters in his own past are discovered as well.
Initially, Holmes is reluctant to take on the case, as related to him by the whisky laird’s daughter-in-law. However, he is lured into the matter and he and Watson set off for France. (There was also a trip to France in Art in the Blood—a recurring theme in MacBird’s works?) It is there that the adventure takes a most gruesome turn, and also we meet yet again the rather unpleasant Vidocq, who vexed our heroes in the initial volume—and a little of him goes a long way.
The plot of Unquiet Spirits is straightforward, and one learns a bit about whisky along the way. Holmes and Watson’s behaviors are perhaps a bit too influenced by the BBC Sherlock, which has different characters using Canonical names, but when compared with the hundreds of other pastiches I’ve read in 2017, there is nothing too egregious here, and this presentation falls squarely in the middle of the road.
Of special interest to me was the segment in Unquiet Spirits where Holmes and Watson, while in France, stay at the Hotel Beau Soleil. An outtake from this portion of book, relating an investigation that occurred as a side quest to this bigger narrative, ended up being a separate short story, “The Adventure at the Beau Soleil,” included in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part IV: 2016 Annual.
With three Holmes adventures now under her belt—two novels and a short story—MacBird is clearly feeling confident as she continues to pull manuscripts from Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box. Her next promised book is titled Devil’s Due, and I will be looking forward to it.