Monday, March 8, 2010

If only they'd stayed on Baker Street

It really started out quite promising. In the book, The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson, Reggie Heath's law firm takes over the building in London which has the address where 221B Baker Street would be, if it were still in existence. As part of the lease agreement, the current tenants agree to answer any letters the arrive addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, there are plenty. No correspondence is to be entered into, but rather a form letter acknowledging receipt of the letter is sent, along with some general words thanking the sender. As it happens, Reggie's perpetually underachieving brother Nigel can just about handle the mindless task of answering the Holmes letters -- at least until he can appear before the legal authorities to explain why he should be allowed to practice law again. There was apparently an unfortunate incident with a client, who misunderstood Nigel's attempts to return a legal fee as an attempted sexual assault (as so often happens).

Anyway, Nigel becomes interested in one of the Holmes letters, written by a young American girl 20 years earlier. She'd asked Sherlock Holmes to help find her missing father. The letter also included some maps that the father had been working on when he disappeared. Now, 20 years later, two more letters, supposedly from the same girl, have arrived asking for the return of the maps. Nigel doesn't think the girl wrote the new letters. He attempts to interest Reggie in the case, but the self-absorbed Reggie can't be bothered -- until Nigel turns up missing and Reggie's clerk turns up dead in Nigel's office.

Reggie follows Nigel to Los Angeles in an attempt to track him down and prove that he didn't kill the clerk. Naturally, soon after his arrival in LA, Reggie is on the scene as a new murder victim is discovered, so he must now work to clear both himself and his brother of the murder charges.

Unfortunately, the characters didn't spend much time in London. Which is a pity. Although I don't know if it would have saved this book, it would surely have made things more interesting. As it was, there was so much wrong with this book that I was amazed it was published. Where was the editor? Among the problems that so vexed me:

1) Reggie arrives in LA and hops in a cab. He has the address where the girl from the letters lived 20 years ago, but that house is abandoned. He then calls directory assistance to get her new address. The cab driver takes him there and leaves. Then Reggie gets out his cell phone, only to discover it doesn't work in the U.S. SO HOW DID HE CALL DIRECTORY ASSISTANCE FROM THE BACK OF THE CAB????

2) Reggie tracks Nigel to a low-budget hotel and begins asking questions. No one wants to talk, so Reggie tries bribes -- with £20 notes. The first person he tries to give one asks what it is, and when Reggie assures him that the money is worth nearly double that in dollars, everyone accepts it -- hotel clerks, cabbies, cafe workers, etc. Later in the story Reggie grumbles about a long layover in Newark, BUT HE HAD NO TIME TO CHANGE ANY MONEY? And everyone in LA accepts British money in relatively small denominations? Surely the exchange fees would eat up the balance?

3) Reggie, seemingly at random, checks into a hotel in LA. Immediately, he begins to receive faxes, phone calls, visits from the police, etc. IS EVERYONE PSYCHIC? Or did he have some sort of universal tracking device attached to him that told everyone where they could find him?

4) As he checks in at his hotel, the desk clerk informs him they can "set him up with an American cell phone." This is helpful, because he's forever getting calls from people who ask things like, "Is this the British guy who's looking for his brother?" Really? How would you ever request that number from directory assistance?

I listened to the audio book, and the problems continued.

5) The girl who wrote the letters, Mara Ramirez, was apparently sufficiently schooled in the English language at age 8 to write a legible letter to Sherlock Holmes. Yet, 20 years later, she speaks with a bizarre accent. It's probably meant to be Spanish, but comes across more like Russian. We later meet someone from her family, who has no accent at all. Um, why would she have an accent at all if she's lived in the US her whole life? Weird.

6) There is also the methane problem. The story revolves around tunneling for a new subway system in LA, with the construction endangered by methane gas pockets. Reggie, understandably, pronounces methane in the British way: MEE-thane. However, the American characters, inexplicably, have the same pronunciation, instead of how Americans would actually pronounce it: METH-ane. It's jarring to have a character who is supposed to be an American suddenly come out with MEE-thane. Not at all believable.

So all in all, this book was just a disaster. Add to that the fact that the story was quite uninteresting, and you have a dud of a book. I really never cared about any of the characters, and spent the whole time just wishing they'd get back to London or that the story would improve. Sadly, neither happened.

Final Verdict for The Baker Street Letters: Zero Gherkins, for being a terrible, illogical mishmash of a book


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