I always like novels that refer to Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective. In this case we are updated to the early twenty-first century, but still the tale is reminiscent of its predecessor.
The Baker Street Letters
The Baker Street Letters (277 pages, Minotaur Books, $13.99) is Michael Robertson’s debut novel concerning the brothers Reggie and Nigel Heath. When this novel opens they are both working in Reggie’s law firm. Reggie is a barrister - in England that is the type of lawyer who actually argues cases in court - and he has given his brother the not-so-glamorous job of answering mail to the firm.
That might be tedious in any situation, but in the present case it is especially so. It seems that the law firm occupies a building on the very same block of Baker Street, in London, which Doyle’s fictional hero occupied over a century ago. Never mind that Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character from the late 1800s, people still write to him and Nigel is in the position of answering those letters with a form letter that was prescribed by the official owners of the building.
There seems to be some dark past that explains why Nigel has taken this menial-seeming job. The younger brother, Nigel seems always to have been caught in Reggie’s shadow, with the result that he is almost always caught in a compromising situation when Reggie escapes and looks blameless. It seems that Reggie stole his girl, even though Nigel doesn’t see it that way, and he screwed up his career because of a connect Reggie had made. And now, when simply supposed to be mindlessly answering letters, he gets caught up in one that had been written by a young girl some twenty years before, and he goes off to Los Angeles in search of her.
Because he takes off on the very day that his lawyer’s suspension was meant to be reconsidered, Reggie is beside himself at Nigel’s absence and flies off to LA himself in hopes of finding his brother and talking him out of this crazy caper.
Well, it soon happens that both brothers are in over their heads. Dead bodies are turning up everywhere in the California haze, and either Reggie or Nigel is implicated every time. What is ingenious about the novel is the way in which it catches the brothers up in the corruption of politics and development in LA, in a plot that is reminiscent of Chinatown, for which Robert Towne wrote the screenplay, and at the same time makes them sibling rivals of a familiar kind.
Robertson is great at creating the almost world-weary mood of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and although he is only thirty-five, Reggie Heath seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is in part because he takes responsibility for his brother. But there is also a woman, the attractive and confusing actress Laura, who leaves Reggie wondering where she stands or whether he has any standing at all.
I am excited to read this first novel in what is already becoming a series. I am starting the second one already.
The Baker Street Letters is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.