by Kathleen Kaska
& Dan Andriacco
This week we have a review of Dan Andriacco’s and Kieran McMullen’s latest Enoch Hale mystery The Poisoned Penman, along with a really fun guest post from Dan about Sherlock Holmes, who makes an appearance in the book. His post is called The Iconic Sleuth. You can also find details on how to win a copy of The Poisoned Penman and a link to purchase the book (a portion of all sales from this link goes to help support KRL).
The Poisoned Penman By Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen
Review by Kathleen Kaska
I don’t have a large DVD collection, but what I do have are ones of my favorite movies. The most recent addition is Midnight in Paris. I love the idea of traveling back in time when literary geniuses and artistic masters were doing their thing abroad. On these “travel forays,” I close my eyes and hear Cole Porter at the piano singing “Anything Goes”; hear the hum of a lively conversation between Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway; smell the thick cigar smoke; and taste the gin martinis.
Reading Dan Andriacco and Kieran McMullen’s Enoch Hale mysteries (set in the early 1920s in London), allows me the same enjoyable experience. The second book in this series, The Poisoned Penman, was just released. I’ve actually read the book twice, cover-to-cover.
The story begins when Langdale Pike, a notorious tabloid gossip-journalist who lived above famous Fitzroy Tavern (still in operation today), ends up poisoned while enjoying a cup of tea at his club. Hale happens to be there when Pike utters his last words and tips over. Upon discovering that Pike was murdered, Hale sets out to find who’s responsible. His investigation takes him to the Central Hall of Westminster, where he runs into Winston Churchill. The two acquaintances enjoy a private joke. Hale then visits his friend T.S. “Tom” Elliot who drops a name and supplies Hale with a promising lead. The infamous Horatio Bottomley, a flim-flam guy who served time in prison, and in Parliament, then becomes one of Enoch’s suspects. And Kate Meyrick, the proprietor of The 43, makes a brief appearance. (This actual nightclub was located in the red-light district and known as the meeting place for late-night Londoners.)
Hale’s investigation takes him all over London, and especially to establishments that allow a thirsty sleuth to wet his whistle. He visits Arthur’s Gentlemen’s Club, Ye Olde Cock Tavern, the Museum Tavern, and Murray’s Night Club. (Except for Arthur’s, all the pubs and clubs are also still operating today.)
Speaking of operating, Hale prefers to work alone. But since die-hard mystery readers expect every sleuth worth his/her detective-weight to have a Dr. Watson, Captain Hastings, or Archie Goodwin in tow, the authors provide Hale with a partner–much to his chagrin. His helper is a spunky, overly opinionated, loud and stubborn copywriter for the S. H. Benson Advertising Agency. She drinks, smokes, and rides a motorcycle. Her name is Dorothy L. Sayers, and at times is too much for Hale to handle.
In further mention of actual people and historically accurate places, therein, I save the best for last. Three of my favorite characters play roles in The Poisoned Penman. Investigating in an official capacity is Chief Inspector Wiggins, all grown up and making a name for himself at Scotland Yard, thanks to his Baker Street mentor. Mycroft Holmes offers words of wisdom and warning and Sherlock Holmes himself provides the confused Hale with seven (count ‘em!) possible solutions. While Hale is poking holes in Holmes’ theories, the reporter comes dangerously close to losing his head. Fortunately, Holmes acts quickly and saves Hale’s skin.
Andriacco and McMullen provide clever methods of introducing each chapter by displaying a vintage photo accompanied by a classic quote. My favorite was Chapter Eleven, “The Paradoxical Mr. Chesterton” (Yes, G.K.C. was indeed one of Hale’s murder suspects). Under the photo of G.K.C. and his wife, Frances, was his witticism, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” I’ve read a few of the Father Brown mysteries, but weaving Chesterton into the story gave me a deeper understanding into the personality and habits of the great writer. In fact, because of Dan and Kieran’s brilliant portrayal of G.K.C., I’ve added the Father Brown series to my mystery reading list.
Oh, and the story also has an element of romance. On this, I’ll remain silent. You’ll just have to read the book. So pour yourself a martini, Manhattan, or favorite microbrew and enjoy this entertaining journey back in time.
The Adventure of the Iconic Sleuth
By Dan Andriacco
In March of 1886, an unsuccessful Scottish physician and sometime writer living in Portsmouth, England, filled some of his all-too-abundant spare time by starting to pen a mystery novel. It eventually was called A Study in Scarlet, and it introduced the world’s first consulting detective. More than 40 years later, in 1927, Arthur Conan Doyle made a short film describing how he had come to create Sherlock Holmes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWjgt9PzYEM
Within the author’s own lifetime the deerstalker hat, curved pipe, and magnifying glass associated with Holmes had already become world-wide generic symbols for a detective. But even Conan Doyle’s fertile imagination could probably never imagine that his sleuth would be riding a new wave of popularity in the 21st century. So perhaps the greatest Sherlock Holmes mystery of all is this: What makes this detective the icon of all detectives, surviving not only the villainous Professor Moriarty but the fickle winds of fashion?
Certainly he’s a great character. As the 20th century American mystery writer Rex Stout once said: “Holmes is a man, not a puppet. As a man he has many vulnerable spots, like us; he is vain, prejudiced, intolerant; he is a drug addict; he even plays the violin for diversion – one of the most deplorable outrages of self-indulgence.” But, Stout went on, “He loves truth and justice more than he loves money or comfort or safety or pleasure, or any man or woman. Such a man has never lived, so Sherlock Holmes will never die.”
There are lots of great characters in detective fiction, however. I think there is something more that sets Holmes apart. The late John McAleer, writing a generation ago, pointed out that Holmes up to then had enjoyed three pinnacles of popularity – each coinciding with a national or international crisis. The first was at his initial appearance, while Jack the Ripper still stalked the streets of London. The second was in the 1930s, a time of great lawlessness in England and an approaching world war. The third – a particularly American renaissance – was in the late 1970s, on the heels of the Watergate scandal and a loss of faith in public institutions.
And now, at a time of economic uncertainty, wars around the world, and divisive politics at home, Holmes is at perhaps his greatest peak yet – a popular culture superstar, not just a cult figure. Fans of two popular TV series, Sherlock and Elementary, as well as the films of Robert Downey Jr. are being drawn to read the original stories. What’s the connection?
“In times of stress,” McAleer wrote, “when [people] feel their property, their values and even their lives are menaced or are disillusioned with those in whom they have put their trust, they find reassurance in rallying around a figure who is the embodiment of integrity and competency – someone who believes in law and order and can bring it to pass.”
In my book Baker Street Beat, I asked: “Could it be, then, that Holmes is hero and father figure in periods that sorely need both? He has his faults, but we know what they are. There’s no chance that tomorrow’s newspaper will contain some shocking revelation of a personal peccadillo – a fate to which flesh and blood heroes can fall prey even after their deaths. Although Holmes sometimes fails, he is always a reassuring presence. When he is around we feel that everything is all right. And, of course, Holmes always is around whenever we need him – never farther away than a wire to summon him and a train to get him here.”
And these days, he can even be summoned by text message or read about in an e-book!
To enter to win a copy of The Poisoned Penman, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Penman,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 28, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.