It’s late 2019, and here we are talking about a brand new Sherlock Holmes novel. Some of you may wonder how that could be possible. The world’s most famous fictional detective was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and he has, as we’re all aware, been dead for a very long time. Without the author around to carry on the tale, how can it be the case that the stories have continued?
Surprisingly, it’s possible for other authors to pick up the tale and turn with it because Sherlock Holmes – along with all of the other characters in the ‘Sherlock’ world – is public property. In both the United States of America and the United Kingdom, copyright laws pertaining to fictional characters expire after a set period of time following the death of the original author. In the UK, that time period is 70 years. In the USA, it’s 75. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle passed away in 1930. Sherlock, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Moriarty have all been in the public domain since the start of the 21st century.
This would explain why there’s been a sudden revival of Sherlock material in the past twenty years. We’ve seen feature films starring Robert Downey Jr in the cinemas. We’ve had the excellent BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. You can even now find Sherlock on mobile slots websites such as Rose Slots. ‘The Great Detective’ has not one but two mobile slots named after him, namely ‘Sherlock of London’ and ‘Sherlock: A Scandal in Bohemia.’ The fact that mobile slots are being based around the character is probably quite apt, given that people are now cashing in on the intellectual property.
With all of this in mind, it would be possible for anybody to write new Sherlock Holmes novels if they wanted to; it’s just that the majority of authors either aren’t good enough with mysteries or would never dare to try. Neither of those categories applies to Bonnie MacBird, who is now on her third ‘Sherlock’ book with Harper Collins and has just signed up to create two more. Her original contract was only for two books, so she’s clearly found an appreciative audience among Sherlock fans. The latest, ‘The Devil’s Due’ came out toward the end of October – so is it worthy of the Sherlock Holmes name? Let’s take a closer (and spoiler-free!) look.
The plot of MacBird’s novel takes us deep into prime Holmes territory. Unlike the TV show, she doesn’t try to modernize the character or his world. The year is 1890, and Holmes finds himself on the hunt for a brand new adversary – one who has a particular penchant for assassinating politicians and other high-profile public figures. As a point of intrigue, each murder is followed by a seemingly unconnected high profile suicide. Holmes, of course, is not a great believer in coincidence. Holmes’ suspicions run contrary to the beliefs of both the press and the police, and he finds himself in conflict with both of them as he pursues his own line of investigation. Just when Holmes thinks he might be making progress, the stakes are raised considerably – Mycroft, his own brother, suddenly disappears. Is he the latest victim of the murderer – and how does the ‘Devil’ of the book’s title play into all of this? That would be giving away too much, so you’ll have to buy it if you want to find out more!
Reviews of the book from other trusted sources have thus far been positive. MacBird has been praised for convincingly replicating the style of Conan Doyle: not an easy task by anyone’s measure. As well as appropriating Conan Doyle’s use of language, she’s also managed to infuse her text with the humor and lighter moments that made the original Holmes books such a joy to read. The warm friendship between Holmes and Watson is as evident here as it is anywhere in the original novels, and the scale and ingenuity of the mystery is worthy of being associated with the ‘franchise,’ if one can use that term to describe it. We suspect that if Conan Doyle were still alive today, he would approve of the book (although MacBird would never have been able to write it in those circumstances because of the vagaries of copyright law!)
The author herself could perhaps be considered unusual. Aside from her Sherlock Holmes work, she’s never written any other published novels, and so her 2015 Holmes book ‘Art In The Blood’ represents her first work as an author, by which time she was in her mid-60s. Her name may, however, be familiar to fans of cult science fiction films. Prior to becoming a novelist late in life, MacBird worked as a screenwriter for films and television. Her best-known work is the classic 1982 science fiction movie ‘Tron.’ The movie is set in a futuristic world about as far away from Victorian London as one could possibly imagine, and so the mere fact that she’s able to write Holmes so convincingly is a testament to her talent and range.
As we covered before, there’s nothing to stop anyone else writing new stories for Sherlock Holmes. The internet is full of Sherlock Holmes fan fiction – which varies dramatically in quality – and you could even try writing a tale or two yourself if you so desired. The only new Holmes novels which are being released as hardbacks by a well-known publisher, however, are the Bonnie MacBird books. That doesn’t make them ‘official’ Sherlock Holmes stories, but it’s about as close as we’re likely to get. In theory, they could even be turned into television shows or films in their own right one day – rumors still persist that Benedict Cumberbatch could yet be persuaded back to play the detective again, and if he does so, a new adventure will be required. ‘The Devil’s Due’ is good enough to be considered.
MacBir’d next book in the series, which will be called ‘The Three Locks’, will be released sometime in the autumn of 2020, with another as-yet-untitled book to follow the year after that. If she’s able to maintain this kind of quality, we hope she continues in her role as the steward of the character for many years to come.