Thomas Watson, son of John Watson, the famous Sherlock Holmes chronicler, has moved to Philadelphia in the 1920s to become a newspaperman in The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy by David E. Fessenden. Despite being the only employee to have a college degree, Thomas has been relegated to writing obituaries, only to be handed the report of his father’s death, which has taken place not long after the famous detective’s death. Then he learns that in addition to being left his father’s estate, he has also been left Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft Holmes, who has shown up unexpectedly to move in with Thomas.
Coming home from the newspaper office, Thomas witnesses the explosion of a speakeasy, with bills of money pouring out the window. Eager to report on something serious, Thomas locates the English butler, Basil Meridan, who served the speakeasy and interviews the man. Basil states that when the door did not open as he brought a pitcher of beer to a group of regular men playing poker, he looked through the keyhole, to see Harry Reagan with a look of rage on his face. Basil ended up somehow in the downstairs servants’ quarters, and then the upper room exploded, killing three men.
Thomas sees his chance finally to make a name for himself as a journalist, but his insistence on pursuing this case gets Thomas fired. Now, he, Mycroft, and Basil, whom Mycroft knew in England and has immediately hired, must work together to find the truth behind the death of Harry Reagan. It takes them into the world of the underground Mob and that of smuggled liquor.
The plot of The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy had some fascinating elements to it, but I felt it didn’t really fit into the mold of a Holmes book. Since the popularity of the 21st century BBC show Sherlock, Holmes pastiches have become very popular. However, I have found that many of them go outside the realm of the possible realities of Sherlock Holmes. I think that they take advantage of the name in order to gain extra attention. In this case, we focus on the son of Dr. Watson and brother of Sherlock Holmes, but they do not seem to me to fit in with the elements of Holmes stories. This book would suit better if it kept the plot without inserting Holmes into it.
That said, the characters and solution to the mystery had interest in its time capsule setting of Prohibition Era Philadelphia. The best character is that of Basil, who endears himself to us in his loyalty and intelligence without strutting about like the peacock we see in Mycroft. The conclusion uses scientific principles to create its solution, but it does get a little complex.
Paul Woodson performs the audio version of The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy. This was only the third or fourth book out of more than 100 recordings by Woodson, so presumably the quality of the recording would be much weaker than the others. However, I would never have recognized this fact based upon the high quality of the recording. The narration in the voice of Thomas Watson sounds clear and effective in his role. He uses voices that suit the characters well, such as the imperious Mycroft and efficient butler Basil. The women further, in the characters of Maggie and Rose, have pleasant voices.
The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy had some creative details to it, in particular the mystery behind the explosion. However, I thought the plot could have been stronger, as it did not have many details of the red herrings shown in good mystery stories. I give this book three stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free, but it had no effect on the content of the review.
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