The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Readers of my blog and of my reviews will likely have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards two types of books – Fantasy/Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes. That is not to say that I don’t review other types of books, it’s just that I keep coming back to those two genres above. And when one book promises to combine the two it certainly grabs my attention.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a wonderous mash-up of beloved characters from Sherlock Holmes and the fantasy genre. A universe where reality is optional at best but some things still remain the same.

Holmes is now Shaharazad Haas, a drug-addled consulting sorceress with a loose grip on reality and even looser morals. Watson is now Captain John Wyndham, newly discharged from being injured in a far off war but not wanting to go home and face his family just yet. The two characters are not complete analogues though there are numerous little nods to the originals. It is more like they were used as a starting point, something to build on yet becoming completely different.

For me, a large part of what made The Affair of the Mysterious Letter so enjoyable was watching the struggle of poor John Wyndham when faced with the force of nature that is Shaharazad Haas. Wyndham hails from a very puritanical country originally and everything that Haas is and does flies in the face of what he was brought up to believe. What is even more amusing is how Wyndham tries to narrate a story with copious swearing as well as wild and appalling behavior without actually placing any of this on paper. The little asides are quite funny and on more than one occasion it gave me a laugh.

In The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, Alexis Hall has written an unconventional and oftentimes outlandish tribute to the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. And my dearest reader, I loved every minute of it. Much like Doyle’s original stories this book is chock full of thrills and chills, is rife with comedy and drama, and has more than its share of tentacles.

Readers looking for something a little more serious in their steampunk novels might want to look elsewhere. For this is a far (very very far) from serious novel. The only thing that makes me sad is that this is currently a stand alone novel. I know I am not alone in saying that I would love to have more of Shaharazad Haas and John Wyndham and their adventures at 221B Martyrs Walk.

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