Review by Ian McArdell
Picking up some months after the events of The Master of Blackstone Grange, which was released back in 2018, this tale finds Holmes and Watson somewhat distant from each other. Watson is no longer resident at Baker Street, but instead living at a Bloomsbury boarding house. So too is the object of his affections, Genevieve Dumont, and despite their plans to marry they remain strictly separate. With rules of propriety enforced by the no-nonsense Mrs. Ogilvie, the pair are in limbo waiting on Genevieve’s shady estranged husband to assent to a divorce.
Meanwhile Holmes has sunk into a terrible malaise, as Watson feared he might, and it is suggested that he has once again become over-reliant on the needle for stimulation. That is, until a new case, brought before him by the youthful Inspector Silas Fisher, sparks his interest. It is a matter of murder – the most brutal killing of a barrister in his own home after a night at the theatre. The victim, found by his wife, returned home in a different suit from the one he went out in and there is a mysterious set of numbers in his pocket.
Writer Jonathan Barnes lays out an impressive tangle of story threads across three episodes and the beauty is in how they are slowly pulled together. From the devious Joseph Drennan, Genevieve’s husband, demanding a favour, to the minor mystery of the ailing Bridget Culpepper – a wronged woman who takes to the stage every night to tell of her ordeal, imprisoned by her late husband, and the theatrical impresario who cares for her.
We particularly enjoyed the introduction of Inspector Fisher (James Joyce), an earnest officer of Scotland Yard whom Holmes takes under his wing while Watson is distracted by matters domestic. As well as battling with continued references to his youth for such a position, there were a few mentions of a backstory, and criminal parentage, which we imagine will play out in the future.
Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl, as Holmes and Watson, are incredibly at home in their roles and its always a pleasure to hear them spark off one another. The addition of Lucy Briggs-Owen as Genevieve alters the dynamic somewhat, and it was great to hear Holmes valuing her insight as a performer. In the wider guest cast, we enjoyed Mark Elstob as the conniving Joseph Drennan (amongst others) and India Fisher as the brittle widow of the murdered man. Additionally, in dual roles, Anjella MacKintosh impressed as both the fragile Mrs. Culpepper and the fearsome landlady Mrs. Ogilvy.
As with The Master of Blackstone Grange, this tale tackles some weighty issues. While the former looked at class, here matters of equality are considered. Genevieve Dumont remains under the power of her husband, unable to move on with her life until he sighs the divorce papers, while Mrs. Culpepper has had horrors visited upon her by her late spouse. While only alluded too, the implications of these make for some very dark fare indeed.
As ever, the production values of this release are exemplary, with a lively score from Jamie Robertson (which is also provided as isolated tracks) and absorbing sound design from Benji Clifford. The whole package is deftly directed by Ken Bentley, who ensures the story maintains its pace as the mystery builds.
The Seamstress of Peckham Rye provides an engaging set of mysteries, though it is built with an intentionally unsatisfactory conclusion. There is a win of sorts, which Holmes lays out over cigars and brandy, but it is of this particular battle rather than the war. By the end, our two heroes are reunited but with a lingering sense of unease – Holmes is reinvigorated, with a new and worthy adversary, but Watson is left with a mark against his character. One we can be sure will return to haunt the pair down the line.
Fortunately, we have not too long to wait – The Fiends of New York City is scheduled for released in May 2022.
Sherlock Holmes: The Seamstress of Peckham Rye is available on CD and download from Big Finish
Order from Forbidden Planet
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