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Review: A Study in Murder by Robert Ryan

Review: A Study in Murder by Robert Ryan

In Robert Ryan's mesmerising novel, Barry Forshaw is once again in the company of Dr John Watson, minus his famous companion, the Great Detective.

It’s 1917, and Sherlock Holmes’ assistant is a prisoner of war in a brutal camp in Germany. The Allied blockade of the country has made food scarce at the camp, and when a new prisoner is killed, many assume that he has been murdered for his Red Cross parcel.

Watson, however, has been trained by example to never accept the obvious conclusion. When the Germans discover a plan to hatch an escape from Watson’s hut, he is sentenced to solitary confinement. Grimly, he realises that the only two options for him are to escape or die. An escape is going to require help from a distance, via a brilliant friend and colleague…

The earlier Dead Man's Land demonstrated that Ryan, unlike the host of writers who conjured new adventures for Conan Doyle’s characters, was bracingly ready to do something surprising and unusual with the legacy. The masterstroke was to put Watson into settings where death is ever present, as it is here.

The last book had Watson (after a falling out with Holmes) working with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, when a series of deaths occurred, involving bodies decorated with Roman numerals. He is once again required to put into practice the investigative technique he has learned from Holmes, and the audacious setting here—the dangerous world of a POW camp where life is cheap—pays dividends, moving into territory that Conan Doyle’s sleuthing duo could not tackle.

A Study in Murder is proof that this is one of the strongest series in historical crime fiction, and one of the best entries in the post-canon Holmes and Watson library.


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