|Lora Roberts: The Incognito Tenant|
John Daniel & Company (Trade Paperback), ISBN 1880284677
If Lora Roberts cares about her fans, The Incognito Tenant will be the first in a series. The delectable interplay between Sherlock Holmes and the clever and efficient housekeeper, Charlotte Dodson, will keep readers devouring subsequent installments with fervor.
This reviewer normally finds works using classic characters underwhelming. The practice strikes me as somewhat less than creative. In addition, the results of an inept author mishandling inspiring characters can be downright painful. Happily, this book avoids both pitfalls. Roberts, known for her Bridget Montrose and Liz Sullivan mysteries, convincingly recreates early twentieth century rural England, taking up the Sherlock Holmes narrative after Holmes moves to Sussex and becomes an apiarist.
At Larchbanks Estate, Mrs. Charlotte Dodson oversees the household staff with a kind but firm hand. The former owner, a Major Fallowes, passed away, leaving the estate in probate. A generous man indebted to Mrs. Dodson for editing his memoirs, Major Fallows willed that all the household staff be kept on at their full wages to care for any tenant leasing the estate for the six months required to find his only surviving heir.
When the reclusive and pseudonymous Mr. Sigerson takes up residence at Larchbanks, his messy, nocturnal ways create consternation among the house staff. Mrs. Dodson finds him to be intelligent, if cold and unfeeling, but refuses to let her personal feelings get in the way of her consummate professional demeanor. In a scene found in all Sherlock Holmes stories, Mr. Sigerson deduces Mrs. Dodson's station in life, as well as other defining characteristics.
Instead of the usual wonder and amazement to which he has grown accustomed, Mr. Sigerson gets his deductive reasoning handed back to him on a platter, as Mrs. Dodson indifferently points out the clues from which he derived his information. Shocked out of his chauvinistic assumption that women do not possess such prowess, Mr. Sigerson grudgingly grants Mrs. Dodson the respect she deserves.
With two simultaneous mysteries to be solved, one inside the house, one outside, both reader and characters must keep on their toes. Inside the house, Mrs. Dodson and Mr. Sigerson both search for the Orb of Kezir, a legendary jewel left to Mrs. Dodson in her former employer's will and now sought by sinister outsiders. Finding it means lifelong financial security for Mrs. Dodson and her son, Stubby, whose well being continuously weighs on Mrs. Dodson's mind. Outside the house, mysterious deaths are being attributed to a vampire, while Dr. Moran, Sherlock Holmes's second worst enemy, has escaped from prison. Mrs. Dodson's suspicions of Mr. Sigerson grow when he shows a penchant for disguise and lacks an alibi for one of the murders.
Roberts handles the intertwined themes and story lines masterfully, using the somewhat stuffy, old-fashioned tone of the original Sherlock Holmes stories but suffusing it with the warmth of a clever woman. Thought provoking, with finely drawn details and a humorous supporting cast of characters, The Incognito Tenant provides readers with a fast and entertaining yet substantial read.
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