Nicholas Meyer’s The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols

Nicholas Meyer is well known for a wide assortment of projects, not the least of which is his first Sherlock Holmes pastiche in The Seven Percent Solution. This story provided an alternate reason for Holmes hiatus, and was a runaway hit. In the years that followed two sequels trickled out, but for decades following The Canary Trainer nothing more. It was pleasing therefore when The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols was announced. A new Meyer penned Holmes novel, and slotted into 1905 when a particular lack of Arthur Conan Doyle stories is noticeable. Thus was enjoyable in itself, however the use of the historical forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion also put the book squarely in the territory of dealing in historical injustice.

The bulk of the text is Sherlock Holmes making attempts to not only prove that the document is a forgery, but to find its proper origins. As with many Holmes pastiches, this text includes a number of celebrity cameos and references to the past in it’s telling. Nicholas Meyer has done an excellent job of researching the volume, down to thinking of possible reasons for the creation of the text and writing an individual as having constructed it who is a believable as a target. The various deductions and decisions the great detective makes, as well as his observations upon the change in the world, are fascinating in their own right. The mystery itself is fairly straightforward, and the deductions Holmes makes serve the story well, although there is an element to the ending that the reader is both warned about and may not see coming.

Watson’s second wife is given a fair deal of character in this volume, and is such in an entertainingly complex manner. Her name is Juliet, and while she depicted as jealous and occasionally suspicious, she is also giving traits that depict her as reasonable, and a trifle more modern than John is. Her status as a suffragette for example, is frustrating to Watson without being outright bothersome. She is depicted as intelligent. Well connected, and thoughtful. 

Another new woman character comes in the form of Mrs. Anna Walling, wife of William English Walling. The latter Walling was a notable figure in the turn of the century labor and social justice movements. Indeed William Walling was a founding member of the NAACP. Anna was known to be a skilled writer, and participated in various leftist organizations for the rest of her life. Her depiction as skilled, intelligent, and principled to her own moral code is excellent, and places her in an unusually strong position play woman of the era, something that both Holmes and Watson are noticeably affected by. Indeed, there is a clever use of strong women and feminism in the book, with Watson being particularly affected by events to change certain views.

Both Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are clearly themselves, both as Nicholas Meyer’s versions, and as a result are pleasing. Watson is perhaps a touch more misogynistic at the start then many of my interpretations, however this suits the storytelling extremely well. Holmes ennui at a seeming lack of interesting crimes harkening back to his own past, and in the process illustrates character development both from previous stories (ending his cocaine habit) and within the text itself (Holmes understanding of crime in relation to international politics and bigotry). While the latter is more likely to be seen as out of character for him, they are both quite interesting and neither feels inherently wrong to Nicholas Meyer’s interpretations of them.

A particular dark and unusual epilogue is given, in which the history of republication of The Protocols is discussed, as well as other allusions to that document and it’s claims. These references go all the way up to 2018, and provide a chilling coda to the book, confirming the strange way in which it is a defeat for Sherlock Holmes in spite of the complicated mix of victories he seems to achieve throughout. Throughout the book the risk the document presents is described, and here the evidence of harm is presented.

It is interesting to note that both this volume and The Seven Percent Solution deal in anti-semitism. It helps the books serve as companions to one another in ways they otherwise might not. It is unknown if Nicholas Meyer plans to produce future Holmes pastiches, and while a reader hopes for such it may not be necessary. While working well alone, it can be said that these two bookend well with one another, and as a result The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols succeeds as a final work on the subject from that particular author.

This volume is easy to recommend to fans of Sherlock Holmes, and fans of period mysteries in general. To anyone who enjoyed The Seven Percent Solution, this book represents an obvious must read. To those looking for an interesting novel of the great detective featuring historical evils, it is similarly easy to recommend. 

(Minotaur, 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.