Author: Nicholas Meyer
First Published: 1976
Publisher: EP Dutton
Sherlock Holmes, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker walk into a bar…
The West End Horror could have very easily been called this, actually. And the names above are only a highlight of the ‘special guest stars’ that appeared in this book; overkill, in my opinion.
None of which is meant to imply that I disliked this book. I actually rather enjoyed aspects of it. Oh, it certainly wasn’t as good as Mr. Meyer’s first book (The Seven Percent Solution), but it had its interesting elements. Rather than giving you a chronological overview, I’m going to instead touch on some of those interesting elements, as well as the rather heavy handed elements that, when combined together, earned this book 3 out of 5 pipes.
Some Enjoyable Aspects
One of the few things that Meyer writes exceptionally well is a climax. They’re quite engaging, actually; accompanied by this sensation of being swept away, which draws you into the story and prevents you from putting it down. I wasn’t entirely certain how this would end; I had suspicions, of course, but the details were no where near worked out –something else that impressed me, actually, because it allowed for a sense of empathy with Holmes, given that it took Holmes some time to puzzle out the solution. The book presents several twists which were not only fascinating, but also quite surprising. There’s a science fiction edge to Meyer’s work that I rather enjoy.
His cast of non borrowed characters were interesting. I say this because, when borrowing a character, it really doesn’t qualify as a creation (more of an elaboration) and hence is not indicative of Meyer’s writing style, or talent as an author. His created characters, however, were quite realistic, complete with a level of descriptive detail that would make Watson proud.
It’s fairly obvious, having now read two of Meyer’s pastiches, that he knows his canon and knows it well. He pays attention to the details. He pays attention to the dates. He pays attention to what’s going on (not just in the world of Holmes and Watson, but in the whole of London, and indeed, the world, at that given time). He’s obviously done his research, and for this the reader has to give him props.
Some Less Enjoyable Aspects
The Seven Percent Solution was enjoyable, largely due to its uniqueness. The West End Horror, then, loses something, as Meyer’s hand has already been played, and played well. One or two ‘guest characters’ I could see, possibly even buy, but Meyer takes this a little too far. At several points I actually lost track of how many ‘famous’ names appeared in the pages. And it’s not just people like Henry Irving, or George Bernard Shaw; he even goes overboard using ACD’s characters, namely by writing a novel that features, not just one of ACD’s Scotland Yard detectives, but all three. The use of ‘name dropping’ in this story took something away from it.
When I first read The Seven Percent Solution, I recognized Watson’s hand. I recognized Holmes. When reading The West End Horror, I recognized only that I was reading a pastiche. Watson is not quite the Watson I expected. And Holmes is not quite the Holmes I first fell in love with. They are off (at times glaringly so) and the end result is a rather jarring read.
There is also a slight deviation from style. When Doyle wrote his stories, they were very character driven. We learnt about Holmes and Watson. We got to witness (if only indirectly) Holmes’ process of deduction. We don’t get that here. Here we get a story (which is quite interesting, in and of itself), and a mystery, and an eventual solution, but that’s about it.
Overall, it’s well written, and the mystery along with its eventual solution is quite fascinating, not to mention inventive. It certainly doesn’t live up to Doyle’s original stories, or even Meyer’s first attempt at writing a pastiche, but it is worth reading.
A finale note, as it appears as though several people assume this story focuses on the Jack the Ripper slayings. This story is not about Jack the Ripper. The Jack the Ripper slayings took place in Whitechapel, one of London’s less desirable neighbourhoods during the late 1800s. The West End is a well known theatre district in London.