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by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, February 2018
291 pages
ISBN: 1683314719

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In Vicki Delany's THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery, Cape Cod Sherlock Holmes bookstore owner Gemma Doyle (no, no relation to that Doyle) is back for a third adventure. In the previous entry, BODY ON BAKER STREET, a high-strung, pretentious author of Holmes-inspired romance novels died in the store, necessitating that Doyle solve her murder. This time, a washed-up alcoholic British actor, Sir Nigel Bellingham, has fallen to his death on a deserted Cape Beach—and the mother of Gemma's shop assistant is the prime suspect. Unflappable and acerbic, Doyle decides to get to the bottom of it. Her Holmes-like objectivity allows her to investigate without judging Mrs. Wilson. Just as BODY ON BAKER STREET exposed a lot of the hype and hypocrisy of the book business, THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES does the same for the northeastern beach town summer theatre circuit. Also, in this adventure, Delany's fierce heroine (she puts the word "independent" in "independent bookstore") finds a kindred spirit possibly to love—but we'll have to wait for the next in the series to learn the solution to that mystery.

Less guessable than Gemma Doyle's earler case, THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES is an entertaining read. The characters aren't particularly well-developed. They have just enough personality each to make them the prototypes of a new version of Clue. The thespians in particular are stereotypes: preening transients, all either desperate hopefuls or desperate has-beens. What makes THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES more intriguing than the typical cozy, however, is its tongue-in-cheek, up-to-the- minute critique of the Sherlock Holmes fan phenomenon, lately boosted by the BBC television series Sherlock. In Doyle's shop, the books of the Holmes canon share the shelves with such kitsch as mugs labelled I AM / SHERLOCKED, a joke that turns the staid Cape Cod drinkers into doubles of the BBC's particularly racy take on Irene Adler. With such juxtapositions, Delany insists that Sherlock Holmes's storyworld includes the kitsch as well as the canon—and that we can no longer claim to read the latter without thinking of its connections with the former—which is true.

THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES also gains excitement from Delany's experimentation with the idea that many if not all the principal players in the Holmes universe wouldn't act very much differently if they were women instead of men. As in BODY ON BAKER STREET, this is best demonstrated by the shop assistant, Jayne Wilson (note the initials) and Lestrade's equally hapless and resentful stand-in, local cop Louise Estrada. Why shouldn't a Sherlock Holmes(-esque) adventure pass the Bechdel Test? THE CAT OF THE BASKERVILLES does so with flying colors, demonstrating that more mysteries should.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, January 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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