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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Sherlock Holmes and The Sword of Osman

The Magus-like figure of Sherlock Holmes – the inscrutable detective, almost superhuman in his intellect and asceticism – has caught the imagination of writers, dramatists, film-makers, and a worldwide readership. The London fogs of the Victorian-Edwardian era, the bizarre mysteries which they conceal, Holmes’s extraordinary ability to see beyond the range and vision of mere mortals – all provide an unending source of inspiration. It is as if we cannot leave this world: as if each tale of Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson, is never enough. Thankfully, writer and Institute member Tim Symonds is on hand to ensure that the casebook of the great detective continues.

Re-imagining Holmes is a great art, and it must be said that Tim Symonds has, in his latest work – The Sword of Osman – taken the formula to new levels and to a new geography entirely. We are just eight years away from the outbreak of the Great War, and Holmes finds himself on a foreign mission, on the very edge of Europe and Asia; solving a murderous conspiracy upon which the stability of the tottering Ottoman Empire of Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid depends. To evade detection themselves, Holmes and Watson arrive in Asia-Minor disguised in Royal Naval uniforms, but for the great man of Baker Street (and for Tim Symonds) authenticity – and a withering observation from Holmes – is everything…

“I awoke next morning to find Holmes changing into the Commander’s uniform and pulling on his boots. I flung myself into the Surgeon Lieutenant’s dress uniform… A porter unloaded our luggage and placed it alongside us in a cab to the harbour. Holmes murmured, ‘Watson, I understand old Army habits die hard but if you are to pass as a naval officer you must rid yourself of the custom of placing a handkerchief in your sleeve. It might well be remarked upon by the crew.’”

Once in the near-Orient, our heroes are surrounded by the sights and sounds of this exotic, yet sinister land – and full marks to the author for his love of scenery and landscape-painting:

“… I looked out of the carriage at the passing sights. Small, clean-eared Arabian horses plunged their faces into great deep basins, lustily lapping the water. Rows of fruit-shops offered apricots, cherries and plums from large baskets… A Cypress tree in the courtyard of a mosque and a stand of Oriental Plane…”

Having laid out the stage, Tim Symonds steers our detective from the dusty streets to the Sultan’s palace – which seems like a vision from an Arabian fairytale. Despite his power, the ruler fears conspiracy and overthrow from every corner and shadow, especially as the unique and priceless Sword of Osman – “only one swordsmith [says Holmes] on God’s good earth could wield hammer and tongs to fashion so beautiful a blade” – has disappeared, to be replaced by a fake.

But who could have struck such a blow? As Holmes observes to the bewildered Sultan: “You are the best-guarded sovereign in the world. High walls surround you. Every inch of this vast palace is under supervision… The only passage of entry to the sword was through two consecutive pairs of doors, one of brass and one of iron… Each night the keys are handed to the Chief Black Eunuch. Given the Head Gardener’s extra two thousand pairs of eyes, it’s impossible for an outsider to remove the sword.”

And so, take your seat for a superb mystery, which goes to the very heart of the Sultan’s realm: the appearance of a mysterious nocturnal apparition, with flames flickering from its body; deadly poisons and secret messages; suspicion and suspects on all sides, as Holmes, gloriously revived by Tim Symonds, undertakes one of his most audacious searches and missions to date.

Stuart Millson

Sherlock Holmes and The Sword of Osman By Tim Symonds, MX Publishing, 230pp, £8.99, paperback.

ISBN 978-1-78092-755-8