Michelle Birkby’s All Roads Lead to Whitechapel

Interesting new points of view for Sherlock Holmes tales are difficult, and even finding a new way to express an old point of view is impressive. Michelle Birkby, in All Roads Lead to Whitechapel, has produced a very nice mystery, one that simultaneously feels true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories while also producing an interesting and unusual read. The beginning of the unusual approach can be seen in the simple fact that rather than focusing upon Holmes and Watson, the story features them as secondary characters, with none other than Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson as the leads.

This change of point of view is made quite clear to the reader early on, with the story taking place as a first-person narrative from Mrs. Hudson. The reader learns a great deal about her slightly tragic backstory, her status as a widow and what she has gained in life. There are multiple times throughout the book when the primary narrative is put aside so that Mrs. Hudson can give her thoughts and recollections of past holmesian events, particularly the events preceding A Study in Scarlet, and the events surrounding The Sign of Four. It’s an interesting point of view, and intermingle as well with her more general memories of the past. 

The Baker Street Irregulars play a major role in this story, with Wiggins and Billy each getting additional information added to their back stories and present-day situations. Other Irregulars are shown and given their own Focus, but as is so often the case these two have the most prominent roles. This book does a better job than most at making the characters feel like children, without feeling overdone, and without removing the fact they have lived much of their lives in very unfortunate circumstances.

Like many pastiches, characters such as Mycroft Holmes and Irene Adler are used, here much differently than they often are elsewhere. The restraint in using Mycroft is notable, and his place in the story is well explained as the narrative goes on while also not placing him front and center, a mistake many pastiches can make when focusing allegedly on other characters. Irene Adler has a similar place, and indeed is going by her married name and seems to have a good relationship with her husband, although many such stories put her into a romantic situation with Sherlock Holmes. This was a real breath of fresh air for the reader.

The mystery itself centers on blackmail, and upon a case that a young woman tries and fails to bring to Sherlock Holmes. This is not so much because Holmes refuses to take the case as because the woman is in a situation where she cannot bring herself to trust men, and his brisk manner only makes this worse. Many of the events, as the title implies, take place in Whitechapel, not long after the Ripper killings. There is tension surrounding this fact, and the fact the police and Sherlock Holmes never publicly captured or killed the man.

The detective work in this book is a very nice mix of styles, ranging from Sherlock”s fact-based detective work to simply interviewing suspects and following intuition in the classic tradition. It is interesting to see characters who do not yet consider themselves experts try to compare their work to that of Holmes. There is more action than one might expect in the story, and to its credit even when someone finds themselves in a dangerous position they do what they can to extricate themselves.

In addition to the book itself, there is a very nice section regarding the research the author put into the details of Victorian London and society.  Some of these details are expanded upon in detail, others have clearly been left by the wayside to make room for a good narrative. I applaud this choice, as far too many authors find ways to force long expository paragraphs of their research into stories set in the past.

Overall this was a most enjoyable little mystery, and fans of Holmes pastiches outside of Watson’s point of view should read it eagerly. It is far less revisionist then the works of Laurie R. King or Caroline Nelson Douglas, but sits well on the shelf with either. Thoroughly recommended.

(Felony & Mayhem, 2019)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.