The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
It isn’t often that you’ll drop into the Ramblings to find a negative review; I tend to try to read things I think I’ll like, as life is too short to waste on rubbish books, and usually I succeed. However, I’m afraid that this time things went horribly wrong and I ended up reading a book that I didn’t like and which made me angry… (and there *will* be SPOILERS in this review).
The book in question is The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin. The author is well-known for his Aurelio Zen series of mysteries, which I haven’t read, but this one-off novel is a Holmes pastiche (from 1978). You might wonder why I persevered if I didn’t like it; well, it was a gift from OH, so I kind of felt obliged to. And I *have* read a number of Holmes spin-offs over the years and mostly liked them (“The Italian Secretary” by Caleb Carr is probably my favourite).
However, I should have guessed from the cover, which pretty much gives away what’s going to happen (at least if you have a half a brain)… The book purports to be a story found amongst the papers of one John D Watson MD. The one bit of the story I liked was the slightly metafictional element Dibdin introduced with Watson feeding Holmes tales to his fellow MD, Arthur Conan Doyle for the latter to turn them into popular tales. However, the story here, fitted in amongst the canonical tales, tells of Holmes and Watson investigating the murders of Jack the Ripper. For a start, that really isn’t an original idea, as several books and films have already done this, and quite effectively. And I have to say that the details of the murders are given in all their gory detail here, so graphically that I had to skip over those bits.
However, Dibdin’s main aim here seems to be to completely destroy the character of Sherlock Holmes. (SPOILER ALERT). Almost from the start of the book it was obvious that Dibdin was going to have Holmes being the Ripper and I really couldn’t believe that it was that obvious – I kept hoping there would be a twist and that the Moriarty he was pursuing would be the Ripper. Then I thought there might be a double twist and we would think it was Moriarty and it would turn out to be really Holmes. As it was, it ended up that Moriarty didn’t exist, Holmes had a split personality and was a sick killer, Watson was a dolt, and Holmes chucked himself off the Reichenbach Falls so as not to kill Watson. Oh dear…
You could argue, I suppose, that Dibdin is presenting a supposedly real-life Holmes that the fictions we know and love are based on. But that doesn’t wash with me – none of this was convincing, it was so predictable I could hardly bear to read it and in the end I just didn’t get the point. Online reviews seem to fall into the extreme love it or extreme hate it camps, and I know which one I fall into. Not a book I ever want to have anything to do with again and the only point in its favour is that it’s less than 200 pages and didn’t take me long to get through…. 😦