Saga Press, 416 pages, $24.99
Isn’t Theodora Goss the perfect author’s name for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? It is her real name. It appears that way on the Boston University website where she is a teacher. It is also the perfect author’s name for someone who has placed some formidable women at the center of her adventure set in Victorian England. And there’s not a steampunk invention in sight.
Holmes and Watson appear frequently, but Goss’ main cast is headed by Mary Jekyll, impecunious daughter of the mad scientist. Soon Mary discovers a sister, Diana Hyde, impecunious daughter of the mad scientist’s evil persona. Because “The Strange Case” is a book within a book, we know fairly soon that there are many female characters whose stories may eventually be told: Catherine, Beatrice, Justine, Alice, Mrs. Poole. I will not fully name them for you because half the fun is learning who they are.
Unlike Doyle’s dour and misogynistic Sherlock, Goss’ Sherlock is fine with having some of the female characters traipse along with him and Watson as murders begin to crop up in the Whitechapel area. (He might even have an itty-bitty crush on one of them.)
The story mostly follows Mary, but it is written by Catherine, who eventually makes her own appearance in the main narrative. When one of the female characters interrupts Catherine’s writing to make a comment (metatextually speaking), her name is helpfully capitalized.
There are initially several murders of working women. Pieces of them are apparently taken away by the murderer. The latest missing body part is a brain. Lestrade is beside himself and Holmes, et al., step in.
Within the context of Goss’ world, all things are possible, however improbable. Holmes himself said, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” The truth in this case means putting your own ideas of the Sacred Characters on a shelf and just enjoying the strange fun.