Book Review: The Spirit Box

The Spirit Box by George Mann

Summer, 1915. As Zeppelins rain death upon the rooftops of London, eminent members of society begin to behave erratically: a Member of Parliament throws himself naked into the Thames after giving a pro-German speech to the House; a senior military advisor suggests surrender before feeding himself to a tiger at London Zoo; a famed suffragette suddenly renounces the women's liberation movement and throws herself under a train.

In desperation, an aged Mycroft Holmes sends to Sussex for the help of his brother, Sherlock.

Back in 2011 Titan Books launched there own Sherlock Holmes series with The Breath of God by Guy Adams, the series quickly picked up pace and now a few years later already 6 books have been published. The series so far has featured two books by Guy Adams, two books by James Lovegrove and now also two by George Mann. My first encounter with George Mann's writing was with The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes and later with Will of the Dead (the fourth book in this series). Having read several authors all writing in the Sherlock universe I have to say that George Mann also did a terrific job with showing this enigmatic detective duo, he even takes the Sherlock universe those steps further by integrating it with his own devised detective duo Newbury and Hobbes, their stories run parallel to the that of Sherlock and Watson. And it happens to be so in The Spirit Box

So far all the Sherlock books that I have read have featured in the proposed time frame of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. George Mann takes the story of The Spirit Box into a new era, 1915. Sherlock Holmes has retired to the quite country side of Sussex leaving the busy streets of London and his Baker Street residence behind. In his retirement Sherlock picked up a perhaps unlikely new career, that of keeping bees. Watson still lives in London but with a growing fear. He has evacuated his wife to the countryside, London faces an ever mounting threat with the first World War, zeppelins are bombing parts of London and it isn't a safe place to live any longer. Watson is not only in grief for missing his wife but also a different family member, one of his favorite nephews has become a casualty in the war trenches of the first World War. The hardest part for Watson is that he has to go through it all alone and this becomes very notable from the start, he is depressed, mourning everything, even missing the "old" times with his friend Sherlock. All of this is about to change when Sherlock's brother Mycroft comes with a new task for out investigative duo. A bunch of unexplainable suicides have been occuring, all without any reason, the persons involved were wealthy and well renown and important persons. This is just the case that both re-unite Sherlock and Watson and rekindle their investigative desires.  

Early on in the investigation they stumble upon the vague references of the Spirit Box, but they do not find out just what this box exactly does. Later on when Sherlock and Watson get deeper into their investigation they learn that the Spirit Box is an apparatus that captures the persons soul on camera... This definitely added a supernatural element to the storyline, more in the lines of George Mann's Newburry and Hobbes stories. And didn't I mention that The Spirit Box is a crossover? Sherlock Holmes requires the attention of Maurice Newbury. Sherlock might be one of the smartest person alive but when it comes to dealing with the occult there is no one better then Maurice Newburry. So the game is once again afoot but not with Sherlock and Watson but with Sherlock, Watson and Newbury. 

I really liked the premise of the story that George Mann introduced, I know him from his supernatural stories with Newbury and Hobbes and don't get me wrong I really enjoyed those but what he does with The Spirit Box is quite different, yes there is still a supernatural element to the story but in the end it goes towards quite a thrilling sort of element. In the earlier books of this Sherlock series we have seen some "weird" stories with the vivisection of Guy Adams in The Army of Dr. Moreau and a heavy steampunk elements with the stories of James Lovegrove The Stuff of Nightmare and again don't get me wrong I am a huge fan of these kind of things but George Mann really takes Sherlock back to the elementary parts of him being a detective. 

Another element that rings true is the imminent threat of the Germans and the troubles of the First World War. George Mann brings this readily to the forefront instead of just having it mentioned on the blurb and letting it simmer in the background. The way that the story is written clearly produces a vision that the times wherein The Spirit Box takes place are far from happy, it is a harsh time and it is far from safe. The best thing of the book is how interconnected the story is , the First World War and how it is cleverly connected with the plot line. This causes that The Spirit Box is far from your ordinary Sherlock story. George Mann really knows how to execute a smart and clever story. 

In writing his story George Mann sticks closely to how Sherlock and Watson were shown in the original story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but he does excert his own influence on them. The story if told from the perspective of Watson and in the beginning of the book I really liked the personal emphasis on Watson's character, normally the story focuses more on Sherlock and the case itself, but giving that more of a glimpse in Watson personal experience was really great to see. 

The Spirit Box is a solid addition to the growing Sherlock fiction, with it George Mann has definitely brought his A game. I enjoyed Will of the Dead but The Spirit Box is really a powerful show of both an occult investigation and a very dire and real threat to the British empire. If The Spirit Box is any indication of what else will be in store for the continuation of this Sherlock Holmes series you can surely count me in for many more books. Added to this is that George Mann has take Sherlock out of retirement and taken him beyond the story arc of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... I am very curious to see just how the story will unfold... 


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