Robert J. Harris's A Study in Crimson: Sherlock Holmes 1942 is an homage to both Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and Universal Pictures' war-years movie franchise, which transposed Holmes to the then-modern era. Like the BBC's Sherlock, A Study in Crimson does right by its venerated source material while putting a new spin on Conan Doyle's characters by rejiggering their historical context.
The novel opens in September 1942, when London is enforcing blackouts that make it that much easier for evildoers to carry out their crimes by night; sure enough, the body of a young woman is found garroted and mutilated in a courtyard. After Holmes learns that the body of another woman killed by a similar method was discovered some days earlier, he determines that the murders occurred on the same dates that Jack the Ripper's first two victims were found in 1888. Holmes's customary periods of reflection while working on a case may be a luxury that the women of London can't afford, given that Jack the Ripper ultimately claimed five lives.
Harris's mystery is up to snuff, and as impressions go, he does yeoman's work with Watson's narration, capturing the good doctor's starry-eyed bemusement with the fustily fastidious detective. Harris (The Thirty-One Kings) elaborates on Holmes's background in a way that jibes with Conan Doyle's careful characterization, and Watson's personal life gets some fresh ink as well. A Study in Crimson's suspenseful subplot: Will widower Watson make romantic headway with an American journalist wrapped up in the case? --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer