I probably approached this book in the worst possible way, in that I hadn’t read much by Arthur Conan Doyle, and even less in the way of Sherlock Holmes stories, nor had I read the first three in the Science of Deduction series. Nevertheless, when Mr. Linwood Grant offered me a copy in return for an honest review, the novella’s description intrigued me and I wasn’t disappointed.
The first thing that grabbed me about A Study In Grey was the main character, Redvers Blake, who I immediately took to. A stammering, world-weary veteran of the Boer War who has seen horrors subtly alluded to, Blake could so easily have been the stereotypical messed up ‘tec. The reality is completely different, and Blake is as engaging as he is flawed as a human and good at his job. Other characters include the capable Miss Jessop, who brings to mind the contemporary suffragists, being a bit more able and confident than the world around her knows how to deal with (as is the chirpily efficient maid, Dora). Despite the prominent picture on the cover and his mention in the title, Holmes himself is largely a secondary character, though the plot turns sufficiently on his presence (and his previous cases) to satisfy fans of the legendary investigator. The contrast between Blake and Holmes is compelling, as both are reluctant heroes and troubled geniuses in completely different ways.
A feature of the novella that I found particularly appealing was the seamless blending of the Holmes stories’ concrete, real-world setting with the contemporary but supernatural-drenched Carnacki tales of William Hope Hodgson – not to mention Conan Doyle’s post-Holmes fascination with spiritualism. The narrative steers a pleasingly skilled course between the two, with the nature of the central mystery kept uncertain until the climax of the story. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to reveal that Blake is sensitive to the supernatural, and Miss Jessop is a powerful psychic. The séance scenes are thoroughly chilling, as is the mask-wearing Count Alten. The conclusion I found gripping and not a little shocking.
Perhaps what pleased me most about this tale, however, was the beautifully realised Edwardian world. The language, setting and characters all coalesce to evoke the period superbly. This is a perfectly formed period gem, and I will be seeking out the other tales in the series forthwith.