By Kristen B.
Sherlock Holmes is a perennial favorite. So many movies and TV shows have delved into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series of short stories and novellas, from House M.D. to Benedict Cumberbatch on the BBC to Robert Downey, Jr’s movies, that the character has entered the common sphere. You really don’t have to explain him and his particular attention to detail.
Katherine Addison’s new novel, The Angel of the Crows, combines Victorian England, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Jack the Ripper with a supernatural, steampunk milieu that includes angels, Fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, and hellhounds. Angels operate a little differently here: they are only thinking, rational beings with names when they have a habitation. Without a location (usually a public building) to guard, an angel is Nameless and belongs to the collective hive-mind. In the worst case, when an angel loses its habitation, the trauma can cause it to Fall (capital letter necessary) … which can have an impact like a bomb.
You need to know this to understand our intrepid detectives, Crow and Dr. J. H. Doyle. Crow names itself Angel of London but is really managing to hold onto a name and an identity by sheer force of will. The angel is a maniac for helping the local police solve murders and other crimes (and obsesses over the daily papers to this end). Dr. Doyle has returned home from the war in Afghanistan, where an unexpected attack by Fallen angels left behind an interesting assortment of wounds and complications. The two social misfits become unexpected, but oddly compatible, flatmates.
These two get themselves into – and out of – all sorts of predicaments. The structure of the book is fantastic, with the overarching story of solving the Jack the Ripper/Whitechapel murders carrying throughout. The novel, however, divides into several, shorter parts which work as discrete, individual detective stories about missing persons, foreign treasure, and other mundane mysteries – most of which are direct pastiches of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. The smaller adventures allow the individual characters to come to life and steal into your heart a little bit at a time. Both Crow and Doyle are wrestling the world for their right to live as they choose – and you root for them as well as their superior sleuthing.
While by no means a strict Sherlock equivalency, the book recognizes and honors its source material. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. It may, indeed, spur you to reacquaint yourself with the originals, too.
Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.