As a child I so enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes movies I saw predominantly with Sir Basil Rathbone. I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager and pledged myself to live as Mr. Holmes. The reason and apparent stoicism of Sherlock Holmes appealed to me as a young atheist in so many ways. Really Sherlock Holmes and Spock were my very ideals as to how to live. I guess I didn’t realize how ironic it was that my atheistic ideals for how a human was to live was based on fictional characters. Regardless there is much to love in these stories and through the years I have re-read them and read some of the novels by others who took on this great character. I recently saw the latest Sherlock Holmes movie and while I enjoyed it, I had to keep many neurons from firing in complaining in disbelief how far it strayed from the original Sherlock Holmes stories.
I started this out to proclaim my Sherlock Holmes bonafides and that I am a true fanboy of the character. So when I was asked to review a new book called “Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes ” by Ann Margaret Lewis you can imagine my delight. The intersection of Sherlock Holmes and the Catholic Church are a combination I could hardly refuse. That the stories involved Pope Leo XIII is another bonus.
From page one I was instantly immersed in the stories and even better I was never thrown out of the story because of some inconsistency. I felt these were truly Sherlock Holmes stories and I got the same enjoyable feeling from these as I did originally from the stories. Having the Pope prominently involved was enjoyable, but it was not the Catholic Church grafted on to a Sherlock Holmes story, but something integral and natural to the story. This is really quite an accomplishment in my opinion. Even better is the fact that each of the stories is somewhat based on a snippet about some other Sherlock Holmes case alluded to in the original stories. This makes it even better and quite amazing to me that a story could be crafted out of such a little snippet from the original stories.
There are three stories in this book and while I enjoyed all of them, “The Vatican Cameos” was my favorite one and the one closest to an original Sherlock Holmes Story. In a way that is surprising because the storytelling departs from the traditional in that Dr. Watson does not tell most of the story. The snippet this story is dependent on is one where Dr. Watson was not involved. Instead most of the story telling is told from the view of Pope Leo XIII who writes it out for the benefit of a request from Dr. Watson. I so loved this story and the conversations between Pope Leo XIII and Sherlock Holmes.
The only caveat I have about this novel is that in one part the Pope says “Thievery is always mortally sinful and one such sin always builds upon another.” In Catholic moral teaching this is certainly not true. A father who steals bread for his children to live has not necessarily committed a mortal sin. What is stolen has an effect on whether a theft is mortally or venially sinful. A pen stolen from work certainly does not have the same moral weight of someone robbing a bank of a substantial sum. I just can’t see a pope making such a basic error in conversation.
The only real bad news about this novel is that it will not be published until August. I really wish others could read it now it is so enjoyable.
* Footnote: On my discussion on my early love of Spock. Science Fiction author and Catholic convert John C. Wright “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.” Well maybe if Sherlock Holmes had a Church it would be the Catholic Church.