Review by Ian McArdell
The latest outing for Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, The Fiends of New York City, takes place in the stifling summer of 1901. Surprisingly, despite its title, it has very little to do with New York and instead, rather more to do with the new power behind London’s criminal underclass; The Seamstress of Peckham Rye.
Unlike the previous tale, which bore her name but only showed us evidence of her influence, we meet the Seamstress in the opening scene. Played by Juliet Aubrey, she’s a practical and calm, if malign, presence. One who is not prone to theatrics, but clearly always gets what she wants.
While the lady initiates her plans, Holmes and Watson entertain an American visitor with a remarkable tale to tell. It’s the story of a killer who keeps moving across the United States and the dogged detective on his trail. One that has ended up on Baker Street itself.
Another thread is that of Mrs Genevieve Watson, née Dumont (Lucy Briggs-Owen), now happily married to John and preparing to give her Cordelia in King Lear on the West End stage. That’s until she’s spooked by a visitor to her theatre, one she assumes to be her supposed dead, formerly abusive mother Sara-Jean Dumont. Watson listens as childhood revelations tumble out…
Meanwhile, Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother is also on the case from another angle and keen for his brother’s assistance as he beards an arrogant rising parliamentarian in his club. As ever, the scenes between the siblings are pleasingly snippy and sardonic, while James MacCallum is delightfully unlikable as the nakedly ambitious, self-serving Jasper Cranfield MP.
These Sherlock Holmes boxsets have assembled a brilliant ensemble cast now, many of whom have played their characters on multiple occasions. Supporting Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl’s winning duo of Holmes and Watson, John Banks reprises both Colonel Sebastian Moran and Inspector Lestrade, while James Joyce returns as the Young Inspector Fisher and Timothy Bentinck as Mycroft. I was also impressed, as always, with the vocal dexterity of Glen McCready who plays everyone from a doorman to the Speaker of the House of Commons – now that’s range!
Writer Jonathan Barnes once again deftly pulls seemingly disparate story threads together and it was interesting to see some things from the perspective of the Seamstress, while Holmes remained on the back foot throughout.
It’s easy to see contemporary themes in the narrative as police corruption and probity in public office both have a bearing on the case. It also prompts me to consider Mycroft, the Whitehall mover and shaker. He’s an unelected official wielding a remarkable amount of power without appearing to be responsible to anyone but himself!
As well as the drama, there are plenty of comic moments in the story too. Early on, I chuckled at Watson, in his narrator’s role, addressing and batting away inappropriate and intrusive speculation about his numerous wives. Later, the whole sequence with Holmes dressed as a chestnut seller with a daft accent was hilarious.
The Fiends of New York is a clever tale, but also part of a larger puzzle. While entertaining on its own, there’s surely far more to be gained if you’ve enjoyed its antecedents too. I’d assumed that the story would conclude a trilogy, drawing together the threads which began with The Master of Blackstone Grange and continued into The Seamstress of Peckham Rye. Instead, there’s a much wider story slowly being pieced together – certainly, its Marvel-like post-credits scene caught me on the hop!
As ever, the mark of a good drama is that time flies by while you are listening to it. That was certainly the case here and, as ever, the production values are exemplary. I look forward to seeing where this is all going!
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