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The following review appeared 29 August 2016 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Paul Schullery is a novelist who does all the little things right. For an author who writes historical fiction, using small details correctly and in the right proportion is critical to creating a world where a reader can find a comfortable escape.
What makes historical fiction even more fun to read (and sometimes a bit easier to write) is for the author to use characters already created and familiar to the reader. In this case, the characters are Sherlock Holmes and Mark Twain--one fictional, though he seems real, and the other real, though he seems almost mythical.
Of course, using two such monumental figures requires that the author adhere to all the known idiosyncrasies of character, habits of speech, action and dress that readers have come to know and expect. Paul Schullery has done his homework and does not disappoint. The mannerisms, dialogue, dress and habits of both men are correct down to the last detail. Clemens's limited physical capabilities of a sedentary smoker in his 60s are accurate and believable. But Twain's limitations do not prevent him from participating in the action--even to resurrecting his long-past piloting skills. Katy Leary, the Clemens's take-charge household maid, is a very perceptive woman who plays a key role in the plot.
If this is a Sherlock Holmes mystery, it must be told from the point of view of his good friend and chronicler, Doctor John Watson. So a first person narrator is already in place and ready to go. Watson eases us into the tale, as he does in most Holmes stories. No beginning in medias res here. But the action soon picks up when Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) comes calling on the famous detective for help. A very strange-looking man seems to be stalking Twain all the way from South Africa and has showed up as a prowler at Twain's rented house in London. The Baker Street Irregulars are also hired to ferret out information vital to the Holmes investigation. Their leader has an even bigger part later in the story.
Holmes, at first, seems a bit more voluble and willing to share his thought processes with Watson than in the original stories. But Schullery anticipated this deviation and has Watson remark that this seemed uncharacteristic of his friend. The tendency to give Watson a little more information is necessary for clarity in the story, and helps Watson, himself, become a major participant in the action and the eventual resolution of the mystery.
It is June 1897, London, and Queen Victoria is preparing to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee as the long-reigning monarch of the British Empire. We already suspect there is some nefarious plot afoot to disrupt this great celebration because of the subtitle of the book, Sherlock Holmes, Mark Twain and The Peril of the Empire. The fact that Twain was in London at this time coincides with history since he stayed there several months at the end of his round-the-world lecture tour to write his book, Following the Equator. The author does not work into the storyline the fact that Mark Twain covered the Jubilee celebration for the New York Journal and that his reports were published in June 1897. Schullery's research of the great parade spectacle could have come from Twain's articles, or from London newspapers, or both. As the story approaches a climax, a struggling Watson gives a fragmentary and harried description of the magnificent pageant taking place around him.
For the sake of future readers, I won't disclose anything of the eventual culprit, or the surprise ending. The author throws in a couple of red herrings so it's not likely most readers are going to have a clue until later in the book as to the identity of the villain, or the motivation for his deadly intent.
This is a fun read. Paul Schullery is an accomplished professional. He has a smooth narrative style that moves the story along while providing all the small asides and details necessary to picture what is happening and to feel the elation, pain, fear, and confusion of the characters.
Only one small word of caution: Schullery's description of a ratting match in a dive near the London docks might not be the best thing to read right before supper.
Diamond Jubilee is the first Schullery book I've ever read, but it certainly won't be the last.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Tim Champlin is the author of 40 books, the vast majority of them historical novels. Several touch on Mark Twain or his characters: Swift Thunder (1998); Fire Bell in the Night (2004); Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer (2010); and the forthcoming Mark Twain Speaking from the Grave; Huck Finn's Howling Adventure; and Tom Sawyer's Dark Conspiracy.