Since starting this blog I have tended to look forward and tried new books rather than revisiting old favorites. For this reason you haven’t seen my thoughts on the earlier titles in the Baker Street Letters series and so I feel I ought to offer a little context before sharing my thoughts on this latest entry.
The concept of the series is that a solicitor acquires an inexpensive lease on a building that comes with a catch. Because his office is 221B Baker Street he is required by the building’s owners to process and issue a form response to all of the letters that members of the public send in addressed to Sherlock Holmes. It is an entertaining concept that has spawned five previous stories, many of which are charming and well plotted.
The appeal of these stories for me lies chiefly in the characterization of the two solicitor brothers, stodgy Reggie and his rather free-spirited brother Nigel. They have distinctly different outlooks on life and complement each other well when they do work on solving a case together. The pair share our attention in each of the first four titles in the series but things changed with the previous story, the excellent The Baker Street Jurors, which focused solely on Nigel. While I missed the interactions between the brothers, I felt Nigel worked pretty well solo because he is an inquisitive person who feels a sense of duty to the truth. He had, after all, been responsible for the pair’s involvement in solving cases in several of the previous stories. He is a natural lead sleuth.
Reggie Heath is not.
I think the problem stems from Reggie’s personality. He lacks Nigel’s inquisitive nature and is a safe, conservative sort of person and so never goes looking for trouble. Instead his motivation lies in protecting Laura who he has just married at the start of this novel. This is certainly a credible piece of characterization but it also means that trouble has to come find him.
This happens after the paparazzi discover where Reggie and Laura’s wedding will be taking place and the pair have to rapidly escape and find somewhere to enjoy their honeymoon. They end up in the Cornish village of Bodfyn where Laura had grown up staying in the home of her former drama teacher. She asks Laura if she will take a small role in a regional theatre production benefitting her old school building which risks being sold.
Reggie soon discovers that one of the reasons Laura decided to return to Bodfyn was that a letter had been received in his chambers requesting he bring her there. I did think it was enormously coincidental that Laura should happen to see the one letter sent to Sherlock Holmes that directly concerned her right before the wedding but I think I could have accepted it had the reason for that letter been better.
Robertson’s plots are typically quite fanciful, featuring some unlikely coincidences and motivations but I think they have previously all possessed a solid internal logic. The villains have been mad, believing themselves to be linked in some way to the Holmes mythos or that Reggie was actually Sherlock Holmes, but their schemes made sense to them. The villain’s reasoning in this story is unconvincing and their plan relies enormously on factors beyond their control. Even if you accept their motivation and goal, it is hard to imagine they would ever conceive of the plan they develop in this story because it leaves so much to chance.
A Baker Street Wedding feels messy, keeping the reader in the dark about Laura’s motivations for wanting to get involved. This seems an odd choice because it gives the reader little sense of what the story will be about or what they are trying to solve until well into the novel.
The other significant problem is that having effectively written Nigel out of the narrative, Reggie is also sidelined for much of the second half of the novel. Instead Robertson focuses on several supporting characters who have appeared in previous installments of the series, one of whom is a rather direct Holmes pastiche. While I appreciate that character in short doses, he lacks the charm or personality of either of the brothers while his identity is kept too well hidden to ever feel like we get to know him.
It’s all a bit of a shame because there are parts of this book that are very enjoyable and will satisfy long-term fans of the series. For one thing it is nice to get some more details about Laura and a sense of where she came from and several other supporting characters get similar treatment. Reggie and Laura both get some fun character moments and I appreciated that their story continues to move forward rather than being kept static between each book.
Though A Baker Street Wedding has its moments, few of them relate to the core mystery plot which I feel falls short of the standard set by previous installments. I still think that this is a very enjoyable series though and I will look forward to another volume. I just hope that when it does we will see a little more Nigel alongside his brother.
Copy provided by the publisher for early review. A Baker Street Wedding is set to be released on December 11.