Ever wanted to read an exceptionally funny queer as fuck Sherlock Holmes reimagining in a chaotic Lovecraftian multiverse where Holmes is a drug-addled pansexual freelance sorceress and Watson is a gay trans war veteran of an inter-dimensional conflict at the end of the universe? Well have I got a book recommendation for you!
Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham (amazing btw) finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation. When Ms Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by lascivious vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms Haas’ stock-in-trade.
This is actually some of the purest, laugh-out-loud, feet-kicking-in-the-air fun I’ve had with a book that I can recall in a long long time. For anyone who might still be unsure about retellings of classic stories this is without a doubt one of the quirkiest and most imaginative retellings I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. For one thing, Shaharazad Hass and John Wyndham aren’t exact Holmes and Watson analogues and there’s not much deductive reasoning goes on to solve the titular mystery; really, the case they’re investigating is a wonderful excuse for the duo to traverse the absolutely bonkers world that Alexis Hall has cobbled together in his delightfully zany imagination. From reality-bending theatre shows set upon by extra-dimensional deities and underwater visits to request favours of four-dimensional Lovecraftian behemoths, to breaking and entering the castle of a murderous vampire to adrenaline-pumping airship chases at dizzying heights to evade the attention of sky pirates. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Hall’s writing is outstanding too; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a delightful fantasy pastiche in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books, but it’s wonderful how Alexis Hall succesfully imitates that style while putting his own humorous spin on it and without it ever feeling at all dated. In fact, it’s downright engaging and Wyndham had his hooks in me from page one. It’s actually written as Wyndham’s serialised memoirs of his adventures with Shaharazad Hass and I particularly enjoyed the humorously meta parts of the book, where Wyndham regales the arguments he had with his editor on topics such as whether a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter would actually inject narrative tension into the story, given that he’s writing a book about what happened twenty years ago and so obviously he did not die.
I seriously cannot recommend this book highly enough if you’re looking for something zany and funny and entertaining. It’s a light read but one I was heavily invested in at the same time. I listened to the audiobook by the way, and while that isn’t something I usually find worth mentioning in reviews, Nicholas Boulton does such an exceptional job of bringing this story and its characters to life that I’d actually recommend the audiobook over the physical copy. Writing this review has actually brought a smile to my face all over again and I’d truly love to read more adventures of this oddball pairing. Fingers crossed for more in the future.
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