Since Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk I’ve been on the lookout for good quality Holmes homages, but it’s surprising just how thin on the ground they actually are. This, however, is a real contender. Ryan has written a thrilling whodunnit/adventure that meets all the requirements of a good Holmesian tale… bar one – there’s no Sherlock Holmes! Well, that’s not entirely true but, after a friendship-breaking disagreement, Watson is left pretty much alone to solve this deadly mystery.
I suppose that Holmes fans may be put off by that twist, but I recommend that they persist, because this is an exceptionally well researched tale and very nicely written. Ryan’s diligence really comes through in the telling and there’s lots of fascinating detail about WW1 trench warfare and about the treatment of the casualties that the Great War produced in such prolific numbers.
The backdrop of Edwardian labour unrest and suffrage bring a three dimensionality to Dead Man’s Land which make it an absorbing read. It did what few books have managed recently; it kept me awake well into the wee hours.
The writing is clean and competent albeit somewhat dispassionate and the characterisation is diverse and well realised. I wouldn’t claim to be a Holmes fan – at least not a dedicated one – but I am sufficiently familiar with ACD’s works that I at least am satisfied with Ryan’s addition to the milieu. True, Holmes himself barely features, and when he does he is much diminished by age. That he has feet of clay may be a disappointment to his followers but Watson is dynamic and believable and I can’t imagine that his fans will have too much to complain about.