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Top mysteries challenge review: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

Year of publication: 1974
Genre: Mystery thriller
Type of investigator: Professional
Series detective: Sherlock Holmes
No. in series: 1
Setting & time: London, UK and Vienna, Austria; 1891.

This is one of the numerous attempts to continue the saga of Sherlock Holmes from where Arthur Conan Doyle left off, although in this case the story actually happens right in the middle of the Holmes canon and is offered as an alternative account to what happened when Holmes disappeared in “The Final Problem” (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes). Two subsequent novels in the series fill in some more of what Holmes is supposed to have been up to during his absence, up to Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Empty House” (The Return of Sherlock Holmes).

Much like three of the four Holmes novels written by Doyle, the book is divided into two parts, but unlike them the story is told sequentially and has Holmes in both parts. In part 1, Watson, who is the narrator, finds his old friend in a state of paranoia induced by cocaine addiction and conspires with Mycroft Holmes to take Sherlock to Vienna where there is someone who may be able to rid him of the addiction. In part 2 Holmes solves a mystery in Vienna which helps him regain his old energy and zest for life.

While I do, on a certain level, find it strange that an author who is as capable a writer as Meyer is should choose to take characters invented by another author and put them into a story in which he could so easily have used characters of his own creation, I also understand the fascination Sherlock Holmes holds for many people and the desire to read more about him. In the afterword Meyer writes that in the book he took some of the theories and deductions made by Holmesian scholars and incorporated them into the book, so it appears that he really did his homework before starting, which is to be commended. The book was probable made more saleable by the inclusion of Holmes, and it would be an interesting exercise in writing for an author to pastiche another's work.

I am not going to do a comparison of the writing styles of Meyer and Doyle, so I can’t comment on how true the writing rings style-wise, but the events and the behaviour of the characters do feel true to the original stories. The writing is skillful and the plot draws one in easily, and the cocaine addiction part is interesting and written in such a way as to make one really care what happens to Holmes. The mystery part, however, is weak (although the thriller element is good), and content-wise could really have been presented better in short story or novella form. As a whole, however, this is an interesting “what if” story and not all a bad book, but its inclusion in a list of the best mysteries of all time is, in my opinion, not warranted.

Rating: An interesting look at what Sherlock Holmes could have bee doing whole he was supposed to be dead. 3 stars.

Books left in challenge: 101

Awards and nominations: None that I’m aware of.

P.S. There is a movie, with an Academy-award nominated script adapted from the book by the author.

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