Chris Bach is a private detective with a sidekick named Sherlock. Sherlock is a genetically enhanced bloodhound with significant intelligence. They live in one of the vast habitats under the Lunar surface. Due to Post Dramatic Stress Disorder, Bach has retreated into a pseudo-fantasy world based on noir films and novels. He wears a fedora, and lives in “Noirtown“, a neighbourhood designed around the aesthetic of the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. One day, as befitting the stereotype, a mysterious “dame” walks into his office. She needs someone found.
Set in the “Eight Worlds” Universe some time after Steel Beach, the novel sports two very interesting, and very different, protagonists. Bach develops from his past trauma, shown in flashbacks, through his present low, and on to his maturity. More daring by Mr. Varley is to write almost half the narrative in the voice of his canine companion Sherlock. While the concept had the potential to fall flat, it is skillfully delivered, and Sherlock is fully developed as a character, albeit a rather peculiar one. The plot itself is somewhat bare-bones, but with characters like this, it has little impact on the quality of the novel.
Alex Lomax is a private investigator in New Klondike, a frontier town on Mars. The place is a bit of a dump, existing only due to the rush on ancient Martian fossils, and Lomax is its stereotypical gumshoe. One day, a beautiful woman walks into his office. She is a “transfer”, a human who has transferred her consciousness into a cyborg body.
The story and setting are a deliberate homage to classic noir detective films and novels. The world-building is solid, and it is a enjoyable and almost wistful reading about New Klondike’s dome and the business of “transfers”. Mr. Sawyer takes the idea of the noir detective to the limits of its stereotype, skirting deadpan satire. Naturally the protagonist is broke and has an overdue tab at a seedy bar that he frequents. Naturally the local police department is corrupt and lazy. The first half of the book is good fun. Unfortunately the second half degenerates into a confusing mess of myriad double-crosses and plot twists, taking the novel from a pleasant pastime to an often irritating morass.
The second novel in the series, also known as “The Sign of Four”, is set a few years further on from the events in A Study in Scarlet. Holmes and Watson have lived together for a few years when a young woman comes to them with a mystery. Her late father disappeared years ago and now an unknown person sends her a pearl once a year, along with a strange note. The adventure then unfolds with Holmes having to solve a locked room murder, and unraveling a complex tale of treasure and alliance among criminals.
Just as A Study in Scarlet, this one holds up very well today. The style is engaging and the story moves quickly. However, just as with the previous novel, I found the very long “explanation flashback” to be excessively long and quite jarring. Still an enjoyable novel for the brief time it takes to read it.
The first novel in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Dr. John Watson, freshly returned from campaign in Afghanistan, becomes what we today would call Holmes’s roommate. Holmes is a mysterious character, addicted to deduction in the service of the detective arts. He is called in to solve a murder and Watson observes.
Despite being well over a century old, this novel stands up very well today. It is eminently readable, even a page turner. It reads more like a historical novel than a dated document written in a forgotten past. Holmes as a character is perfect; mercurial, ironic, enigmatic and arrogant. I had two problems with this novel, and I am hardly treading new ground here. First, it violates that cardinal rule of detective novels. It is impossible for the reader to figure out who did it before this is revealed. Secondly, just as Holmes is about to reveal all about halfway through the book, the story flashes back a few decades on an immensely long backstory set in Utah. While this was certainly more page turning action, I found the transition quite jarring.