It was a variation in the making, given today’s modern women. Michelle Birkby’s latest book The Women of Baker Street, she turns Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson into detectives in their own right, following in the footsteps of Holmes and Watson. Birkby carefully uses Conan Doyle’s map of Holmes’ behaviour and Watson’s medical contributions. The two women complement each other — Mrs Hudson as befits a housekeeper is careful and observant while Mary, a young beloved wife, is rash and outspoken. She also has a yen for medical testing — as in taking blood samples to test whether they are human or not — for which she has her husband to thank. Both are determined to right the wrongs that they see around them.
Birkby apparently read her first Sherlock Holmes book at the age of 13 and it shows. Holmes has a list of cases that he never took and getting the women of 221b Baker Street to take them on makes logical sense.
This, the second book in the series, refers to the affair of a blackmailer dealt with it the first, an affair that haunts both women because of the way the blackmailer died, killed horribly in a fit of outraged justice. The affair seems to have roots in the second case that comes up for them — a series of deaths in a hospital ward that the ill Mrs Hudson, providentially sent to that particular ward with intent by Dr Watson, is convinced are murders. The investigation is held up until Mrs Hudson herself is in danger of being murdered when Mary Watson comes to the rescue with a discharge certificate. Then, freed from the hospital’s confines, the game’s afoot, with independent women characters making their own statements in different ways.
The references to the first book throughout make reading The House at Baker Street imperative — though the inspiration for the blackmailer comes from Conan Doyle’s Charles Augustus Milverton story, another blackmailer who was shot down by a tormented woman victim. Darkness is Birkby’s contribution to her stories — Conan Doyle’s dark was not so flesh creeping barring The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Birkby is not Conan Doyle but she has enough of the smoke and mirrors in her to make the latest an absorbing read.Anjana Basu is the author of Rhythms of Darkness