Martin Davies: Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse
Martin Davies: Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose
Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse
Berkley Prime Crime (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0425198456
BBC producer and editor, Martin Davies, loves his dad. And to demonstrate his affection, he presented his father with the first novel of the Mrs. Hudson series. His father sparked the what-if for the series with his musings about what life must have been like for Holmes' housekeeper. Davies' present extends to readers as well as his father. I read both books of this new series in one sitting.
To be honest I adore the Holmes kind of deductive reasoning and observant speculation. But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's quirky, self-important main character who tormented Watson at every turn left me wanting to kick him in the shins. This attitude may be why I embraced Davies' series so heartily. Using Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as the hook, the author builds on the adage "behind every successful detective stands a woman feeding him the clues."
Holmes and Watson participate fully throughout the books; they don't hover in the shadows. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, solidly stands her ground against her boss's chauvinistic put downs, asks her own questions, uses her own contacts and solves the crimes, feeding clues along the way so Holmes can keep up. It seems like a foot race, the old turtle and the hare, between the matronly servant and the skeletal Holmes as they unofficially compete to solve the mystery. Mrs. Hudson and her sidekick "Flotty" Flotsam, a 12-year-old orphan who came to Mrs. Hudson by way of the streets, work together much like Sir Arthur's detecting duo. Flotty, like Watson, writes the stories, but she gets more respect, affection and mentoring from Mrs. H.
Mrs. Hudson, a rotund master of the domestic arts, forges connections in the often overlooked street sub-culture as well as in aristocratic circles. Her list of life-saving favors performed for lawyers and wealthy heirs as well as street urchins, merchants and the impoverished, inspire recipients to return the favor and stand at the ready to help whenever Mrs. Hudson asks. By living her life as an invisible domestic servant, she sits in the perfect position to observe life and collect an eclectic array of facts, trivia, information, and life lessons. Her merry band of street urchins and wealthy pillars of the community truly adds to the novels' fun.
The writing hits the bulls-eye for Victorian style and voice without dragging or becoming overly stilted. It transported me to the time when kitchens stood as the heart of the home, domestic chores reflected a person's character, and women fought for equality most vehemently.
Mrs. Hudson appears as more than Sherlock Holmes in drag. She stands as an observant detective with a touch of feminine intuition and a thorough understanding of the domestic scene. I particularly enjoy the aristocratic put downs from Holmes just before Mrs. Hudson proves him wrong. The author wisely allows the relationship between employer and employee to evolve toward something more resembling colleagues.
The puzzles, drawn from well-known Holmes stories, though not predictable, feel familiar. Anyone who recognizes Sherlock Holmes will recognize the Giant Rats of Sumatra from which Davies' draws his first novel, Mrs. Hudson and the Evil Curse. This book also creates Mrs. Hudson's own Moriarity figure, a villain bent on dragging sweet Flotsam back to the streets.
A message, delivered late at night by a one-eyed man, beckons Holmes and Watson to help a businessman, Mr. Moran, who recently returned from Sumatra where he barely escaped with his life. He assures Holmes that he lost his fortunes and returned to London penniless. Yet Mrs. Hudson discovers his residence in a rather sumptuous suite in a respected part of London. Moran tells Holmes that evil natives put a curse upon him and his colleagues. He saw several who died horrible deaths from the poison drawn from large, legendary, rat-like creatures. He beseeches Holmes to save his life. Mrs. Hudson smells a rat in the man's story and does a bit of snooping to discover whether he could be less a victim and more of a villain.
In the meantime, Mr. Fogarty, the man who hopes to add Flotsam to his stable of prostitutes, returns to extort information about the case. If Flotsam tells him what Holmes is up to, he will save a young boy from drug addiction. Flotsam must chose between loyalty to Mrs. Hudson and the chance to save the boy Mr. Fogarty claims is her long-lost baby brother. The author includes a nicely done locked room scene in which they unmask the dastardly villain.
Book two, Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose, revolves around another locked room puzzle. Whenever the Great Salmanazar, a magician, performs in a city, magnificent, irreplaceable, priceless gems disappear. He announces his performance in London to coincide with a Maharaja's presentation of the Malabar Rose to the British government. The government rushes to Holmes and Watson begging their help in protecting the gem. This opens the door for Mrs. Hudson and Flotsam to join in.
But first Mrs. Hudson takes pity on a woman who requested Holmes help to find her missing son-in-law, who simply vanished, almost before her eyes. Holmes laughed it off as a man's perfectly understandable escape from women's incessant talk of fashion. Mrs. Hudson believes Mr. Holmes may be mistaken and sets out to prove it. Her path leads her right into the midst of the Malabar Rose heist.
The author inserts humor and irony at every turn and plays on the uptight Victorian mores to poke fun at Holmes and Watson. One of the sweet asides in this novel describes Watson's infatuation with a stripper who reads Yeats.
The delightful detective work, bits and pieces of lore, and little known information sweeten these already delicious reads. Anyone who enjoys anything Sherlockian will want to check out this series.
here to share your