Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Jewel of the Thames

There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street

Set against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting — and somewhat mysterious — heritage.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia is left puzzling over why she was she left in the guardianship of the extravagant Mrs. Jones? Portia is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her guardian, where she discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first one involving stolen jewelry, the second one a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.

Confession time I'm not a huge Sherlockian. I'm actually rather the opposite--I was always more in the Hercule Poirot camp of quirky male detectives that most people find obnoxious. BBC's show (and Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones) however convinced me I was being too hard on the fellow. When I received an email asking if I'd be interested in reviewing Jewel of the Thames (as part of Portia's blog tour) it came just as I finished episode 3 of the show and I wasn't ready to let go. Really not ready to let go. Have you seen season 3? No? You'll see why I wasn't ready to let go.

Broken into 3 cases, each building on the last as Portia's journey towards the truth unravels.  Misri does Portia a great service by not making her instantly perfect.  While she definitely has a keen eye, quick intellect and charming personality she's still young and not immune to the fallacies of that youth.  For instance in the second case she only stumbles upon the truth through happenstance and luck while in the first case it takes a lot of leg work and cunning an the third case a combination of the two.

Portia is immediately likeable.  She's practical, humble and tries hard to not let herself become entangled in things.  In many ways she was like Holmes--the minutiae of the day didn't bog her down, she was always concerned with the larger focus.  Unlike Holmes she does understand the need for social niceties and proves herself very capable of steering between the upper crusty sorts to the Scotland Yard detectives she runs into occasionally.

Those surrounding her--from her mysterious benefactor to the couple who took over 221 Baker Street to the detective who is incredulous about her abilities are all engaging.  Even the "villains" prove to be delightful as they offer Portia a chance to test her mettle as an amateur detective determined to take up with Holmes and Watson left off.

I will say that sometimes the nature of the cases threw off the pacing of the underlying plot.  While the individual stories were well paced, the cases themselves were written almost as connected individual short stories so at times the flow of time felt stiff.  Also I found it a little bit outside the ordinary that so much happened to her in so short a time, but then as any fan of detective shows or stories can tell you the amateur detective has a knack for attracting dangerous situations.

JEWEL OF THE THAMES is a well paced mystery that felt genuine and made me try to figure out what was going on. Some details of Portia's shrouded family past are rather obvious, but watching her piece together the clues was amusing. Especially when she figured out who her ahem guardian was.  I definitely can't wait to see what happens next and I certainly hope to see more of Brian Dawes (though I'm okay with him only being a friend and not a love interest, I like their easy banter and companionability).