Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Web Weaver!

The Web Weaver is another in Titan's impressive The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series which has attempted to gather up some of the more curious of the Holmes pastiches of the last several decades. Sam Siciliano, the author of The Angel of the Opera returns this time with the first of three more stories, all done new for Titan. This story again brings us not Dr.John Watson, but Dr. Henry Vernier, the cousin of Holmes invented by Siciliano to present a more human Sherlock to the reader. It works and it doesn't.

Now it's important to know that the Siciliano stories are meant to be read in order and so while it's not critical that one have read Angel of the Opera it helps to understand some of the character development in this one. This is Siciliano's longest Holmes novel so far and it feels all of its considerable length. Truth told, the mystery does not measure up to the length, since the solution seems a bit too apparent too early on and there are not any significant twists to speak of.

The key to these stories, which makes them not completely successful Holmes adventures, is that Siciliano seems less interested in the mystery angle and more in freshening the picture of Sherlock himself, who routinely in these yarns degrades Dr. Watson and suggests that he is much more than the caricature painted in the pages of the Strand. Many of the characters mistake Vernier for Watson and some are never disabused of this misunderstanding.

The biggest change here is the addition of Michelle Doudet-Vernier, Henry's new wife who was only in his thoughts in the previous novel but very much in this one. So much so that some of the chapters are actually narrated by her. The point of this seems to be to add a female perspective to a story which is very much about the woman's role in Victorian society.

And that seems actually to be Siciliano's main point in this story which concerns itself with an enigmatic gypsy who suddenly appears and casts a curse upon a household which seems typical for its time but unfortunately is loveless. The lady of the story is exceedingly handsome and bright and Sherlock is smitten. The larger mystery seems to be a mild uprising among many in the working class to force the rigid Victorian society to reassess the nature of class which defines life for nearly all of its population.

And then there are the corsets. Much is made of whalebone corsets and the damage they do to women of the era and what a refreshing and provocative thing it is when some femme chooses to eschew them. Vernier is rather obsessed with corsets, taking every opportunity in the text to detail who is and who is not wearing one. His wife never does and these randy newlyweds make the most of her relative freedom from tradition.

So with all this character study and social agenda analysis going on it's sometimes difficult to keep track of the mystery, and that is what really just makes this book get really dull before it wraps. I want to like it more, it has an appeal, but unless you're reading all of the Siciliano canon as I have done, then I cannot recommend. If you are planning to, then it might behoove you to get this one under your belt as it does inform future efforts a bit.

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