The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson

February 24, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Reggie Heath is a London solicitor who rents office space at 221 Baker Street. This address, of course, is the one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used as the home base of the most famous literary detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Because of this, part of Reggie’s lease clearly states that he is to archive any and all correspondence that arrives at the office addressed to Sherlock Holmes, and he is to send a form letter in return. Reggie didn’t know this, as he didn’t read the lease as carefully as he should have, but brother Nigel, also a solicitor, caught the clause and has been handling the letter duties.

Nigel, never a stickler for the rules (as evidenced by his disciplinary hearing in front of Britain’s equivalent of the Bar Association), comes across a particular letter to Sherlock Holmes written 20 years ago by an 8-year-old girl. His attention is drawn to this missive because there have been a couple of follow-up letters asking whomever is on the receiving end to send back some maps that were enclosed in the original two decades ago. Nigel, after scrutinizing the letters, decides that the newer ones are forgeries not written by the same girl, and figures there must be a darn good reason someone would go to all that trouble to try to get some old maps back.

Reggie would just as soon leave the whole thing alone and simply continue on with their simple law practice, but Nigel won’t have any of it. The stakes escalate the next day when a clerk is found murdered in Nigel’s ransacked office. Reggie and current fling Laura discover the body, see that Nigel is nowhere to be found, and worry that he might have had one of his “episodes” again. Reggie checks Nigel’s computer, where he finds confirmation of an airline reservation to Los Angeles — the hometown of the young letter writer.

The London police descend on the scene and immediately consider Nigel a suspect. Worried about what other kind of trouble Nigel might get himself into, Reggie follows him to Los Angeles, where he tries to follow in Nigel’s footsteps and track down Mara Ramirez, the letter writer of yore. Reggie soon stumbles onto a mystery he never bargained for, pertaining to forged geological surveys and the building of a subway through some outlying areas of L.A. There’s more murder and mayhem on the other side of the pond as Reggie, Laura, and Nigel work to uncover the bad guys.

Liked:

  • This sounded like a unique, interesting setup. Two brothers who answer letters to Sherlock Holmes and get involved in a real-life mystery… pretty clever!
  • The book was actually quite funny in a lot of places. I didn’t expect to smile/laugh as much as I did while reading.
  • The pacing was wonderful. The action moved along briskly from beginning to end, with few (if any) slow spots. I was able to breeze through this one with no problems at all.
  • I liked how the ending wasn’t neatly tied up with a big red bow. There were loose ends, and justice wasn’t served all the way around. This was a perfectly acceptable ending, since sometimes it works out that way in real life — especially when talking about the misdeeds of major corporations. I think it was more realistic to have the British secretary get nabbed for murdering the clerk, and to have the movie production studio and the company behind it just keep clicking along as usual. Also, it was a nice touch to put Reggie’s personal fortune at stake in the company via his association with Lloyd’s. That made the outcome all the more believable.

Disliked:

  • I had a hard time buying into the conceit that a 20-year-old letter would suddenly have significance in a multimillion-dollar public transportation project across the pond. I mean, the author tried his best to make the setup seem as plausible as possible, but it just didn’t work for me.
  • Robertson relied on a few too many coincidences to keep the story going. Mara Ramirez having the same name and living in the same city? A lot of women her age might have been married or moved away by then. Only one Mara Ramirez in all of Los Angeles, and her name is in the phone book? How convenient for Reggie! Mr. Ramirez comes back and hangs out at the homeless shelter across the street from his daughter’s house? Again, isn’t it convenient that she lived in such an area?
  • This is a nitpick for sure, but I have to say it anyway. Robertson repeatedly referred to the fact that someone posted $1 million in cash for Nigel’s bail. Obviously Mr. Robertson isn’t familiar with the American judicial system, in which only 10% of the amount needs to be posted. That means Nigel would have needed $100,000, not $1 million. Yes, it’s a small detail, but that “one million dollars in cash” was mentioned several times, so the error stuck out all the more.

Rating:

I thought this was a decent first effort from Michael Robertson. As I said, I like the basic setup of Reggie and Nigel acting upon letters written to Sherlock Holmes, and think the author can get a lot of mileage out of that story vehicle. I can see this growing into a series, and if it does, I’d definitely read a few more. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

One Response to “The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson”

  1. I agree in part with the above, well-written review of “Baker Street Letters.” I disagree, in part, however, with the character development and the ending. Character development, particularly with the villains and character introduced in the latter half of the book were tenuous at best. Not nearly enough development in which to sink my teeth so I formed little care and feeling for these characters. Might explain the quick read. This books was whimsical at times, unique and clever in it’s use of language and wit but ultimately a let-down. The last couple or so chapters were terribly weak. The biggest disappointment was the ending. I turned the page expecting…and huh? That’s it? Did he leave off the last few pages? Not looking for a nicely packaged, formulaic, feel-good ending with a bow on it. Just looking for an ending that made any kind of sense.

    I cannot recommend it for even fellow Sherlock Holmes fans, let alone fans of quality fiction. A C+/B- read at best. Much better stuff out there, I’m afraid.

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