The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes by Jonathan Barnes

SHER400_slipcase_1683x1488Years after their last case together, Doctor John Watson, while out walking his dog, is startled to meet his old friend Sherlock Holmes. This is no social call, however. Holmes has recently come from his dying brother, Mycroft, charged with a mission. A mission that relates to crucial events from both Holmes and Watson’s past.

Many years previously, the world thought Holmes dead at the Reichenbach Falls. At the time, John Watson and his wife Mary continued their lives as normal, until the day Watson is visited by a vicar who has been receiving cryptic messages. Meanwhile, Holmes, in the guise of a Norwegian explorer, is in Tibet, on the trail of Moriarty’s right hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran. Both of their investigations are going to lead to places they never expected – and become deeply personal as tragedy is looming on the horizon. The Society is on the move – and the flood is on its way…

SHER401_poppyland_1417Big Finish Productions have been producing Sherlock Holmes audio plays for a while now. After two initial one man somewhat meta-plays from David Stuart Davies starring Roger Llewelyn, Nicholas Briggs took on the role of Holmes with Richard Earl as Watson. I’ll get round to reviewing those earlier plays at some point. They’re from a mixture of sources – Holmes and the Ripper and The Tangled Skein are based on existing pastiches, The Speckled Band, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Final Problem/The Empty House you might have heard of, and The Reification of Hans Gerber was an original story.

SHER402_atthegatesofshambhala_1417And then, Jonathan Barnes took over the writing. His strategy is to weave his new stories around the existing canon, taking advantage of gaps between the stories and changes in Holmes and Watson’s circumstances – for example in the previous box set, The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes, we learn what tragic event pushed Holmes into bee-keeping retirement – without creating anything that contradicts the Doyle canon, e.g. resurrecting Moriarty, which must be the temptation of the lazy writer. Here, he takes on the biggest gap of all – namely what Holmes was up to between The Final Problem and The Empty House. And also, which is often overlooked, what Watson was doing at that time as well. And what exactly it was that Holmes did that means he is in need of judgement from his oldest friend…

SHER403_themaninthemoonlight_1417Much more of a four-part story than the last box set, this is another marvellous production. The writing sounds as if it could have come from the pen of Doyle himself and the central performances are flawless. Richard Earl gives us a Watson that is both competent and a character in his own right. So often Watson performs the traditional role of the companion in Doctor Who – namely someone to have the plot explained to them and little else, but that is not the case here. Nicholas Briggs is now for me the classic Holmes. There are some wonderful scenes here, with Holmes provoking his torturer or almost begging Watson for forgiveness at the end of the tale – not going to say what for, obviously – and, as I said last time, the pair give us a Holmes and Watson where you can actually believe in their friendship.

SHER404_thetragedyofpargettersquare_1417The supporting cast is outstanding as well without exception. Special mention to Terrence Hardiman as the villainous Dr Esau Thorne, especially the way the Scottish accent the character is suppressing slips when he is under pressure – never mentioned in the script, just a lovely note to the performance – and Nicholas Chambers, but I won’t say what for, for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to detail the plot at all, but will say that the twists and turns keep the listener enthralled all the way to the end. I do have one gripe, one that I gather I share with the readers of Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty, but as long as Big Finish get moving on the next box set, there won’t be any problems. And given the overwhelming positive reviews of the Briggs-Earl-Barnes triumvirate, I see no reason why we’ll be waiting for long…

Overall, an outstanding piece of audio. Highly Recommended.

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9 comments

  1. There are several books detailing the events of Sherlock Holmes during the years 1891-94 such as The Lost Years Of Sherlock Holmes, The Oriental Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes, Chronicles Of The Lost Years and The Mandala Of Sherlock Holmes.
    However, as you have mentioned, in this audio play the events of Dr. Watson also during those years are described.

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