Sherlock Holmes stories have been part of my life since very childhood. I grew up completely obsessed with Sherlock Holmes (and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas - but that’s for another story). After Sherlock Holmes came Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and some others, but Sherlock Holmes has always been number one. I have read a few pastiches based on Conan Doyle’s stories and characters, as well as some other detective stories set in Victorian England.
It has been awhile since I discovered new Victorian England stories. And then I saw a book by the title of Arrowood at Indigo.
The tagline was so appealing that I had to restrain myself from buying it on spot.
London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.
The Afghan War is over and a deal with the Irish appears to have brought an end to sectarian violence, but Britain's position in the world is uncertain and the gap between rich and poor is widening. London is a place where the wealthy party while the underclass are tempted into lives of crime, drugs and prostitution. A serial killer stalks the streets. Politicians are embroiled in financial and sexual scandals. The year is 1895. The police don't have the resources to deal with everything that goes on in the capital. The rich turn to a celebrated private detective when they need help: Sherlock Holmes. But in densely populated south London, where the crimes are sleazier and Holmes rarely visits, people turn to Arrowood, a private investigator who despises Holmes, his wealthy clientele and his showy forensic approach to crime. Arrowood understands people, not clues.
Sound exciting, eh?
Well, let me tell you, Arrowood is one of the most boring books I have ever read. It is only 360 pages long, but it took me so long to read it that the book was more than 1 week overdue back to the library. I just started to yawn every time I read as much as a page.
The novel is very slow paced, even more so in the beginning. For a very long time, basically up till the very end, all parts of the narrative were very disjointed, and I couldn’t figure out how all of those plotlines were going to cross. The mystery was resolved at the end, however, I didn’t find the ending to be strong. The disappearance of a Frenchman was not what it seemed. The Irish gang’s actions were not as violent as they were portrayed to be. Someone got their vengeance, but it lacked the ‘WOW’ effect. (I am trying to avoid spoilers, in case you still would like to check this book.)
Arrowood is a debut novel by Mick Finlay. He teaches in a Psychology Department, and used his knowledge of psychology while writing his novel. The author gave his character, Arrowood, the ability to profile people and predict their actions based on psychology. However, at times his deductions seemed a bit farfetched or not strong enough for evidence. As much as Arrowood likes to complain about Sherlock Holmes’ methods, he is not always accurate in his conclusions either.
I did not like Arrowood as a character. He is supposed to be a gentleman, but his hygiene is terrible, he doesn’t seem to care to spend money on his clothes, in spite of being vain, and he is a bit too attached to gin. He is short and fat, and repeatedly called unattractive - a total opposite of Sherlock Holmes (or Hercule Poirot). Arrowood is terrified of his sister Ettie, who seems very like one of those Wooster’s aunts - formidable and no-nonsense, which adds a bit of a comic relief into the story.
I think my biggest issues with this book come from the fact that the blurb on the cover set my expectations for something of the same level and tone as Sherlock Holmes stories. But Arrowood is different. The characters are more flawed, they lack elegance and refinement; the language also lack the intricacy of Doyle’s penmanship. It seems to me as if the publisher’s intention to make the book sell by putting the comparison with Sherlock Holmes on the cover backfired a bit. The events of the book do take place in parallel with Doyle’s stories, which is fun (for me as a fan of the stories), but also seems like a cheap attempt to ride on Sherlock Holmes’ coattails.
I wanted to love Arrowood. But I didn’t. I dislike him, quite a bit in fact. Barnett, his sidekick, is more of an appealing character - more so, that the narration is told from his point of view, in the obvious mimicry of Doctor Watson’s stories. Barnett is a simple man, but he has a secret that he carries throughout the book, and that secret and that pain associated with it made me like him a lot more than Arrowood. I might even be tempted to read the next book just to see how that plotline gets revealed.
Ettie left me confused. On one hand, she is a strong willed woman, who does exactly what she wants. On the other hand, she turns into a blushing maiden around a certain someone, which seems very much like not her character at all, if we assume whatever Arrowood said about her was true.
Not to mention, that one scene in the book in which Arrowood and Barnett failed to get information from a group of men (working in a garage), who supposedly were part of a gang, and sent Ettie and her church women to search the place. The reasoning being that ‘a man would not hit a woman’. Seriously? Is it supposed to be believable? Or is it a joke? Because those women are removed by those men by force, naturally.
Was it an attempt to make this book more feminist? (Since the historical period of the book traditionally had women as weak and incapable.) Was it supposed to be funny?
I don’t think female characters or their roles in the story were written well. I am all for strong female characters but not at the expense of a comic relief.
I wish I could love this book, but instead it left me bored out of my wits. I gave it an extra 0.5 star only because the period language is quite on point.
I am yet to decide if I want to read the second book when it comes out. I am interested in Barnett’s storyline, but I also would rather be reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Perhaps, this book would have worked better for me in an audio format, but alas I read a hard copy.
Personal rating: 2.5 stars