Audio Review: Sherlock Holmes – The Master of Blackstone Grange

Review by Ian McArdell

Now in it’s fourth box-set, writer Jonathan Barnes has provided a slight twist with his latest Sherlock Holmes adventure. Rather than a four-part tale, this release consists of a three-parter, plus a single Christmas Special which was previously available as a download in the festive season.The Master of Blackstone Grange
Set post Reichenbach Falls and after the death of Mary Watson, with Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson both batchelors back in residence at Baker Street, the story begins with excitement very much lacking for Holmes; his caseload is pedestrian and Watson fears his friend is sinking into a dangerous malaise.

In an effort to coax him out of it, Watson brings him the curious case of a missing wife via his barber – one which piques Holmes’ interest. However, before they can get cracking, events conspire to jolt the pair in another direction; the news that Colonel Sebastian Moran, the late Professor Moriarty’s right-hand man, is to be released from prison on a technicality throws Holmes into a spin. While Watson continues to honour their promise to look into the disappearance, Holmes initiates a one-man mission to track the murderous Moran and return him to his rightful place behind bars.

Jonathan Barnes’s story is elegantly constructed and it is thrilling to feel seemingly disparate story elements connect early on, but with a larger mystery remaining out of reach. The Master of the title is one ‘honest’ Jim Sheedy,  recently returned from the US having made his fortune and looking to make a name for himself in society.

Barnes offers character development for both of the principals throughout, Nicholas Briggs brings his Holmes from frustration to obsession and it was easy to sympathise with his frustrations as Moran goes free and his good work is seemingly undone, while Richard Earl’s Watson is a delight as the loyal friend and widower who finds a glimmer of romance.

Harry Peacock (Toast of London‘s Ray Purchase) plays ‘honest’ Jim and he gives an terrifically layered performance, mannered and unsettling – and at times dripping with menace. This is a man who has become very used to getting what he wants.

The other guests include Lucy Briggs-Owen, who charms both us and Watson as American actress Genevieve Dumont, while John Banks and Tim Bentinck reprise their roles as Moran and Mycroft Holmes.

For all its period setting, which is ably evoked with sound design from Joe Meiners and music by Jamie Robertson, the themes of this tale seem very modern as they deal with the issues of class and privilege. It also brings both our heroes to a point in their stories which begs continuation, offering equal measures of hope and melancholy.

The Adventure of the Fleet Street Transparency
Set within the timeframe of the Blackstone Grange story, though standalone, this festive special is a fascinating little tale which throws a surprising link to another Big Finish classic – and indeed, we would advise staying away from the cast list so as not to ruin that surprise!

The tale begins with Holmes in jovial mood, hosting a party for his irregulars, before being asked to look into the case of Rangeley, a Fleet Street columnist whose prose is seemingly being meddled with before printing. While Holmes is initially reluctant, a mysterious influence catches his attention and he is soon on the case.

Again, this is a story which feels remarkably fresh in some respects with Rangeley feeling like a modern day opinioneer who writes to shock, pushing a revisionist, insular agenda – although perhaps such people have always been around.

One element we particularly enjoyed was the brief turn by a showman when Holmes visited a theatre during his investigations; played by the multi-talented Leighton Pugh, who also voices three other characters, the Impressario had shades of the wonderful Henry Gordon Jago in his delivery.

It hardly matters that it is nearer Easter than Christmas now; this is a festive treat, wrapped in a terrific score by Jamie Robertson, and it really is lots of fun!

Overall rating 4/5

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