A couple of months ago I was anxiously wondering what reviewers would have to say about my Sherlock Holmes novel, A Case of Witchcraft. Now I’ve had quite a few reviews, and I’m happy to say that they have been mostly rather good.
There seems to be a general consensus that the protagonist of my novel is a good likeness of the Canonical Sherlock Holmes. Jaime N. Mahoney, for example, says: “Joe Revill creates a Sherlock Holmes who is every inch the logical, rational, deductive mind that readers want and expect” and “in A Case of Witchcraft, Sherlock Holmes is still, first and foremost, the detective that readers know and love”. Likewise, Susmita Chatto, of The Bookbag, says that the book “brings us the Holmes we love very quickly, instantly recognisable with his usual acerbic wit and attractive peculiarities”, and “provides us with a new insight into the most private recesses of the mind of Sherlock Holmes”. The Booksmonthly reviewer says that “Revill’s imagery and characterisation are superb, and capture Holmes as Conan Doyle had him”.
I did, of course, explore the question of Holmes’s sexuality (or lack thereof) rather more explicitly than is the case in the Canon; and some people like this, while others do not. The Booksmonthly reviewer considers that such things were “left alone by Doyle for good reason”; and the generally sympathetic Ms. Mahoney says: “Hesketh Pearson maintained that readers want to know more about Sherlock Holmes, but Revill makes the reader wonder how much the reader really wants to know, if it is not better to have a divider between the Sherlock Holmes of Dr. Watson’s stories, and the Sherlock Holmes of a harsher reality.” On the other hand, the pseudonymous Literary Fox, on Amazon.co.uk, thinks this aspect of the novel “interesting”, and “thoroughly modern”; while in his own Amazon review, Matt Laffey, of Always 1895, considers that I conduct the exploration “maturely and respectfully” and “to the benefit of the narrative, all the while maintaining a canonical clarity which never forces the reader to question the author’s motivations for breaching canonically quasi-taboo subject matter.”
People generally seem to like my novel’s characters. Ms. Mahoney says that “The cast of characters in A Case of Witchcraft are at turns compelling, menacing, comical, and flamboyant”, adding that “Every character in the novel appears to have a unique role to play, and they do so intensely, no matter how briefly they are on the page.” Literary Fox says that I “create full and believable characterisations”, while another Amazon reviewer, Firefox C., enjoys “the interplay of character” in the book. Philip K. Jones (alias “The Ill-Dressed Vagabond”) is kind enough to say that “the most singular feature of this book is its interesting characters. All of the people depicted present strong and impressive personalities to the world. From the local Detective Sergeant to the Schoolmistress and from the Island Provost to the waitress at a Fish and Chips store, all are distinct, interesting and individual people.” I like them all, too, and I’m glad that my readers feel the same!
The partnership between Holmes and Aleister Crowley was bound to be controversial, given the understandable affection that readers have for Dr. Watson, and the rather dubious reputation which Crowley acquired in later life. I like Dr. Watson too, of course; but I thought that it would be interesting, for once, to see Holmes building a relationship with someone else, to whom he could reveal different aspects of himself. I am glad to see from the reviews that many of my readers agreed. Ms. Mahoney tells us that “Crowley proves a worthy companion to Sherlock Holmes.” FireFox C. says “Holmes’s relationship with Crowley is an interesting twist and offers some fascinating dialogue between two men of powerful intellect and unconventional views.” Ms. Chatto, of The Bookbag, makes the perceptive comment that “Crowley is painted with flair and character and Holmes’s observations of him are in themselves a window into Holmes’s personality.” Matt Laffey has told me in an e-mail that he enjoyed the partnership so much that “I found myself wishing that Aleister Crowley went on more than just one Holmes adventure; honestly it’s a thought I would have never even imagined possible (that is, Holmes + Crowley, back2back!)”
People also seem to enjoy the descriptions in the novel. Ms. Mahoney says that “Revill has done his research in writing this book, and his knowledge comes across in the details—the manner in which he describes food (I have never read a Sherlock Holmes novel with such a lovely, though lengthy, description of cheese), clothing, local and period customs, and settings, particularly architecture. His depiction of Trowley is atmospheric, vivid, and fully-formed.” Ms. Chatto remarks “Revill provides a great deal of attention to detail, from scene-setting to the inclusion of items with which the reader has familiarity in ordinary daily life – Heinz Baked Beans being one example! His descriptive talents are clear as he evokes a Victorian world, and creates scenes of sorcery with vivid imagination.” Firefox C. says “I found the imagery and period detail rich and imaginatively satisfying”, while Literary Fox calls the novel “rich in detail of dress and manners of the period… lending the work a depth of historical realism.”
One thing that baffles me a little is that a couple of critics have found the novel’s philosophical discussions rather modern: Literary Fox says “The Holmes character retains the analytical, problem-solving mind of the original but the philosophical discussions central to the novel are as much 21st century as 19th”; and, perhaps picking up on this, the Booksmonthly reviewer says “Whilst retaining the 19th century flavour of Holmes, Revill attempts to engage some 21st century philosophy”. I really don’t understand this, as it seems to me that all the discussions are very much of their time: the kind of conversations that educated Britons might well have had at the end of the 19th century. Perhaps what is meant is that these discussions of late-Victorian problems are still relevant to us in the modern world. I certainly think that’s true: some things haven’t changed.
So, on the whole, people seem to have liked my book. Matt Laffey calls it “well-written, fun to read, exciting… risk-taking but erudite, challenging yet satisfying”! To Dr. Dan Andriacco, “It’s a thoroughly researched tale of bewitching witches that comes to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.” To the Booksmonthly reviewer, it is “a superior offering” and an “excellent pastiche.” Firefox C. finds it to be “A worthy re-imagining”, and Literary Fox considers it a “Stimulating, satisfying and enjoyable read.” Most gratifyingly of all, the “Ill-Dressed Vagabond” says: “It is a sharp and cogent tale, not just a case from Late Victorian times, but also a microcosm of large parts of Human History.”
I think that I shall write another one!