Reedsy Review: “A new Holmes story for fans of the original, The Keys of Death is a satisfying new mystery, true to character, and delicious to read!”
Keys of Death is not Gretchen Altabef’s first foray into the world of Sherlock Holmes, there are at least three other novels in this vein according to her Goodreads page, but this novel does serve as an origin story of sorts. Not necessarily for Holmes himself, the great detective strides across the early chapters fully formed, with all of the knowledge and upright intelligence we expect from true, turn of the century Holmes, but for the trio that is Watson, Holmes, and Mrs. Hudson.
And do not get me wrong, in Altabef’s version of this story, they are very much a trio. A genius detective, a veteran of a foreign war, and a young widow all roughly the same age, and all living together at the most infamous address in literature.
Keys of Death is augmented by two massive innovations in the Holmesian lore: the first is a change to the typical portrayal of Hudson from a fussy old woman who has to keep reminding her tenants that she is not their housekeeper to a young woman of intelligence, strength, and deep emotional turmoil.
The second is that Hudson’s late husband, whose murder kicks off the story and is the impetus for her renting rooms to Holmes and Watson in the first place, was Jewish.
The ripples of these two changes allow Altabef’s novel to take place. By making Hudson an energetic young woman, she is allowed to become a far more active participant in the story. By making her late husband Jewish, and her subsequent ties to the Jewish community of London strong, an entire community and culture is drawn into the fray of this mystery with unerring accuracy.
Told largely as a first-person narrative that rotates by chapter between the three leads, the dialogue and details can get a little muddled at times, but the changes in perspective and thus priority allow for interesting changes of pace from the traditional, Watsonian narration.
Innovative with story, but still largely true to the characters as Doyle wrote them over a century ago, Sherlock Holmes and the Keys of Death is a Sherlock Holmes mystery written by a fan of the original stories, for fans of a similar bent. There have been many, glossy updates, adaptations, and re-writes of the Holmes stories across the decades, but Altabef brings us back to the beginning and the basics with this novel, and at the result is incredibly satisfying.
Review by Jennifer deBie for Reedsy.com.
Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail. THE KEYS OF DEATH is the genesis story of the world’s most famous address, No. 221B Baker Street.