CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 26. . . .March 7, 2014
Jewel of the Thames. (A Portia Adams Adventure).
Angela Misri. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.
Halifax, NS: Fierce Ink Press, 2014.
241 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Ruth Latta.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"I have to admit that I have come to care for and even admire Mrs. Jones," I said, "though she has her foibles, as we all do."
"I like how she treats you," he replied.... "She cares for you very much and I like that you have that in your life."
I didn't know what to say about that, but I felt warmth in my belly at his concern for me.
"Well, also, she's the only connection I have to Dr. Watson and my grandmother. Even if she weren't my guardian, I'd still want a relationship with her," I stammered, forcing my words to slow. "She is, after all, the only person who can tell me about that entire side of my family. Though getting information out of her is not an easy task."....
"Well...not the only person," Brian said with a frown, his head coming up, eyebrows furrowed.
I looked at him quizzically...
"There is, after all, Sherlock Holmes," he said with a smile.
Jewel of the Thames concerns a young woman's search for information about her unknown grandparents, but it is also about much more. After her mother's death, 19-year-old Portia Adams stands alone in a Toronto cemetery looking at the graves of her mother and grandmother. An elegant older woman in furs appears in the cemetery and introduces herself as "Irene Jones". She was a friend of Portia's grandmother and is Portia's guardian. She presents Portia with a deed to a London house left to her grandmother, then to her mother, and now to her.
Portia no longer has any close ties in Canada; her unknown father died in the "Great War" and her stepfather is an abusive drunk. She travels with Mrs. Jones to England to take up residence in the house and study law at Somerville College. The house is 221 Baker Street, the address of the fictional Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr. Watson, the famous creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Reader interest lies in seeing how author Angela Misri incorporates information from Conan Doyle's Holmes stories into her novel.
Two-twenty-one Baker Street is divided into two apartments. The upstairs one is empty, and so Portia moves in. The downstairs flat is being rented by a young police constable, Brian Dawes, and his parents. The relationship between Brian and Portia is one of friendship rather than passion. Brian is the vehicle that gives Portia access to the world of crime-solving. Reading the journals of Dr. Watson, which she finds in the apartment, and studying famous criminal cases in her law course, Portia becomes interested in detection and employs her deductive skills in solving three contemporary cases.
Mrs. Jones does not share Portia's home, but she drops in frequently, reluctantly divulging bits of information about Portia's ancestry. Her off-and-on appearances and her interest in Portia tie together the three 1930 criminal cases and ensure that the reader doesn't forget about Portia's ongoing quest for information about her grandparents.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Aficionados engaged in the game of assembling Holmes' and Watson's biographies from details in Conan Doyle's fiction place Holmes's birth year as 1854 and Watson's at 1861. In 1930, the year in which Jewel of the Thames takes place, Holmes would have been 76. Misri set her novel in 1930 so that the characters borrowed from Conan Doyle, who were in their prime in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, could still be alive and in Portia's life. (In 1930, the Great Depression was beginning, but this worldwide historic economic disaster is just backdrop in Misri's novel.) Watson married three times. Holmes never tied the knot, but he was deeply fascinated by the female protagonist of "A Scandal in Bohemia", a woman whom Misri brings into Jewel of the Thames.
Misri's formal, descriptive style is a homage to Conan Doyle. Like his Holmes novels, her Jewel of the Thames appeals to the intellect rather than the emotions. Indeed, Portia's personality seems oddly like that of Holmes. "My social skills were my downfall," she says. "At the best of times I could be impatient, so at my worst I was perceived as rudely dismissive." Her mother was her only confidante, and Constable Brian Dawes is her first friend. Like Holmes, Portia has an eye for detail and can deduce from a personís appearance.
Occasionally, Misri seems to forget that Portia is not Holmes. In one case, she uses "bonnet" as a synonym for "hat." The wearer is a young, chic Londoner. Women wore bonnets in Victorian England but not in sophisticated 1930 London. Also, it is jarring to read that 19-year-old Portia goes all over London in pursuit of clues, even at night. Alone on Westminster Bridge, she remarks, "It was past three in the morning now." She shows an incredible lack of caution for a woman in an unfamiliar big city.
On the whole, though, Misri has made a clever contribution to Sherlock Holmes spin-off literature. Jewel of the Thames will introduce younger readers to the Holmes world while also appealing to seasoned Sherlock fans.
Ruth Latta's four Delia Cornford mysteries are available from firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Her most recent novel is The Songcatcher and Me.
on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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