Brendon Connelly’s background is deeply rooted in film and television as both a creator and commentator of the medium. Connelly has written and directed film, as well as been a prolific reviewer and commentator – writing for various websites as well as the resident film geek on Oxfordshire’s Jack FM Sunday Roast show. His next project marks a considerable shift in focus, however. On Tuesday, October 21st, he is releasing the first ‘episode’ in a new series of very short novellas, entitled 221b.
Sherlock Holmes is never far from the public consciousness, never more so in the film and television arena. Recently we’ve been inundated with Guy Ritchie’s film version of Holmes with Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, the BBC’s Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and the US’s take on modern Holmes in Elementary.
It’s no wonder that when Connelly originally envisioned his piece as a TV series he realised the market was a tad too oversaturated. Having said that, this is no Sherlock reboot or modernization. Quite the contrary. The series is set in our ‘real world’ universe, where Sherlock Holmes is the famed fictional detective we all know and love him as.
The series follows Emily, an early twenty-something suffering from a lack of direction in life (doesn’t everyone at that age?!). Flitting from one temp job to another, Emily is finally placed in a job that might be a little more interesting than it appeared on paper. The Holmes Brothers estate agency occupies the space where Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective once took up residency, something they have been playing off for publicity. As part of Emily’s new series of mundane tasks, she must sort through the letters from fans of Holmes that arrive daily.
Emily’s first day coincides with the first day of another new temp, Jenny. Unlike Emily, Jenny seems less amused by the letter-sorting task. When an unusual letter is found, from an elderly woman with a true Holmesian mystery on her hands, Jenny seems profoundly affected by it. When both Jenny and the letter go missing, Emily’s curiosity is set alight. She finally finds purpose for her previously directionless life, and takes it upon herself to find the truth.
From screen to page
From the word go you can tell that the writer’s background is in film, with his emphasis on details of setting, creating a detailed look and feel for each scene borders on the OCD. The precision in articulating these environmental details leads to a well-realised world, where the reader can easily picture the events as they unfold. The only downside to the focus on details is that it can sometimes be a bit much – at times I wanted him to leave out some of the descriptive text and let my own imagination fill in a few of the details.
The entire set-up of the story also reads like an episode of a crime procedural television show. You know what I mean, where the crime is laid out to set the scene of the episode’s mystery – even medical drama House followed this plot convention. The prologue both sets up the mystery as well as being something of a red herring. Though certainly involved in the crime (and therefore the mystery) it doesn’t actually depict the exact crime that finds itself at the center of the narrative. Another red herring it throws into the mix is the immediate tension building of a 48-hour deadline.
The Curious Case of the Drugged Dog and the Jammed Window
The first title in the series spends a lot of its time devoted to setting up the premise. The mystery is there, but doesn’t really kick into full gear until a good halfway through. I’d hope that the next installments get into the mystery faster than the first, though it is a forgivable delay given the circumstances. Having said that, there is enough to keep the reader hooked and reading on from the beginning, with an easy to read and enjoyable prose style.
The mystery itself is fairly standard fare for this genre, where the bad guys bring the wrong kind of attention on themselves while trying to avoid that very thing. Decent people get caught up with the wrong sort while trying to sort out mundane issues such as money problems and end up paying the ultimate price. The guilty party is a surprise, though I would have liked their character to be featured a bit more in the lead up to the crime’s solve to make the surprise have more of an impact.
Emily’s skills with the case have the reader trying to guess what conclusion’s she has already come to as she speeds towards the finish line, and she gives us the answers to our questions without being patronizing or arrogant (like Sherlock would most certainly have been). My only issue is one that is common to many of this kind of mystery story – the crime itself seems overly complicated and there isn’t enough of a reason given for it being so complex.
Verdict: Overall, 221b is a fun, quick read, great for a nice weekend break away from the slog of the working week. The easily digestible episodic format is a fun way to consume prose mysteries, much like many of the original Sherlock Holmes short stories.