Title: The Women of Baker Street
Author: Michelle Birkby
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Michelle Birkby’s ‘The Women of Baker Street’ is the second installment in the Hudson and Watson investigation series. In this adventure series, Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ landlady and “a long-suffering woman” with her eccentric and irregular lodger and Mary Morstan, the first wife of Dr. Watson, step out into the spotlight. Given there isn't really much about their background in the original books, Birkby has meticulously woven a history, and a maiden name and a personality straight out of her own imagination for Mrs Hudson. Mary Watson née Morstan too gets her fair share of foreground.
The book opens with Mrs Hudson falling ill and rushed to a private ward at St Barts hospital, where there is an abnormally high death rate. Soon we are introduced to a truly eclectic and strange group of women who share the ward with Mrs. Hudson while she recuperates. None of these women in the ward are what they seem; Emma, Betty, Eleanor, Flo Bryson, Miranda Logan, and all have secrets they wish to hide. The ward is presided over by the mysterious Sister Ruth Bey, who is the night nurse. She spends all of her time at her desk, obsessively writing in a logbook, refusing to go near the patients. Mrs Hudson is driven to investigate, when she witnesses one of the deaths taking place, and discovers that it was murder.
Mary gets her own investigation to solve. Her case involves the “pale boys,” who may or may not be real. The boys are street children, either snatched from the street, from orphanages, or trained to kill. The two investigations run in tandem, before converging halfway through the novel. I was much impressed as to how two separate mysteries were handled by the author. Both were given roughly the same amount of focus, but at no point did I feel lost or found the telling lacking.
However, this isn’t a standalone book. You will likely find yourself lost if you don’t read the first in the series, because while ‘Women of Baker Street’ has a much more straightforward narrative, it also refers to and relies on threads that were set up in ‘The House at Baker Street.’
Birkby knows how to write fun, feisty, and fully realized female protagonists. Her characters are their own persons with their own personality. The narrative is surefooted, lively, and inventive. Finally, here’s a pastiche based on a promising idea.
About the Author
Michelle Birkby has always loved crime stories and read her first Sherlock Holmes book when she was thirteen. She was given a beautiful collection of all the short stories and has been hooked with the wonderful, gas-lit, atmospheric world of crime and adventure ever since. A few years ago Michelle was re-reading The Empty House and a blurred figure in the background suddenly came into focus. It became clear to her that Mrs Hudson was much more than a housekeeper to 221b and she’d always been fascinated by Mary Watson's character. So she set about giving the women of Baker Street voices and adventures of their own...The Women of Baker Street is the second book in the series, following The House at Baker Street.
I'd like to thank the publisher for letting me review the book. I do hope you end up liking the book when you read it. Thank you so much for stopping by, and happy reading!
* I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** Picture courtesy: Amazon.in