** spoiler alert **
I was seriously disappointed in this book. I've read almost every Sherlock Holmes novel and pastiche out there, and I was looking forward to this one based on the previous recommendations I've read. Mind you, there is a lot of good and bad SH fic out there--and the canon work itself is seriously flawed. However, for the most part, I enjoy SH as a character and love the historical setting and the mysteries--so my disappointment surprised me.
I'm not sure why I was so disappointed. Perhaps it was because at times the writing felt contrived and clunky. Maybe it was the fact that the story didn't live up to the hype. That might have been the biggest factor, to be honest. I'd heard so many good things about this story that I was surprised when it rated only average in my estimation. As a writer myself (albeit of a small, niche genre) I know how devastating a negative (or even lukewarm) review can be, so it is with hesitation I even rank it here.
Here are my problems though: First, the convention of knowing Holmes is dead as the book opens and Watson reminiscing about his past. I know why it was done--it lent an element of uncertainty to the proceedings so that when we got to the part where Holmes is accused of murder, we have a moment of doubt as to whether he makes it out of this or not. He's Holmes though, so we know he does. The maudlin aspect of Watson writing out memoirs in his dotage, of relaying crimes "too heinous to mention" didn't work for me. Especially since in this day and age, the crimes weren't that heinous (not to the jaded modern reader, that is) and whenever Watson in the present started to talk about the past, you could almost see the special effects of the scene spinning into a dream/flashback sequence. As a convention, I found it heavy handed and annoying, and it threw me out of the story. The same effect could have been done with Watson writing the story as it occurred and then prohibiting its release until all the principle characters were dead. The only thing you'd lose is the 'what if' suspense about whether SH is hung for murder, and we all know that wasn't happening.
Ditto the scene with the supposed Moriarty. When it occurred, I thought that maybe, just maybe we'd get to see Watson actually saving the day as far as imprisoned Holmes was concerned--which would have been a neat twist. And yet, when Holmes managed to free himself instead, rendering the whole scene with Moriarty useless, BTW, I couldn't help but think, 'of course Holmes would free himself.' Until I began to think about the fact that his escape all hinged on the chance discovery of someone in the infirmary that he'd previously encountered who'd be inclined to help him.
All in all, the book fell short of my expectations. Though to be fair to the author, the elements of the canon novels were all there. Perhaps it would be wise of me to point out that I am a fan of the Mary Russell novels by Laurie King--which are a far cry from Holmes as depicted in the ACD canon. I can't help but feel however, that King's Holmes made a lively and real impact on me as a reader, that Horowitz's version did not.
I am tempted to increase the rating here simply because I feel bad rating anyone's story as a 2 star--but if I go by the GR standards of 2 stars being 'it was okay', then I have to stand by my rating.