Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
George Mann is an accomplished British author. His most well-known works are the Newbury & Hobbes series. These tales focus on Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes and their mystery investigations set in a 19th century steampunk England. Sleuths Newbury and Hobbes are in many ways similar to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, only their adventures are written with 21st century sensibilities and Mann’s love for science fiction set in the Victorian Age.
For this reason, it is not surprising that Mann might also delve into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic murder mystery duo. In Sherlock Holmes: The Will of the Dead, George Mann combines his modern perspective and love for all things steampunk with Doyle’s classic characters. Holmes and Hudson enter Mann’s Newbury & Hobbes world. This move seeks to promote the author’s own setting, while recognizing and paying homage Doyle’s earlier works.
The Will of the Dead begins with the untimely death Theobald Maugham. The elderly, and very wealthy, man presumably fell down the stairs in the middle of the night. A horrific accident, or so it seems, until a search of the man’s property finds his will to be missing. Sherlock Holmes is summoned by his surviving relatives to find the whereabouts of Maugham’s will.
A cursory examination of the body suggests foul play. Without the will, Maugham’s descendants begin to fight over the inheritance. Things are further complicated by the appearance of an unknown claimant and now there has been a second murder.
Meanwhile, “iron men” have been spotted in the city. They target the wealthy robbing them of their possessions. Their presence is disconcerting to the London elite. Both mysteries must be solved and quickly. Yet, the police are at a loss. Fortunately, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are up for the task.
The story is in many ways a classic murder mystery. The Will of the Dead is a proper tribute to Doyle’s earlier works. However, the steampunk elements seem forced. While an interesting diversion, the “iron men” story arc does not intertwine directly with Maugham’s missing will and is therefore unnecessary to the primary narrative.
This should not dissuade fans of either the Newbury & Hobbes or Sherlock Holmes series. The Will of the Dead is a strong contribution to both universes. For fans of Newbury & Hobbes, there is even a short story, “The Hambelton Affair,” appended to the back of the book.
The emphasis on mystery over terror may turn off some horror fans. However, for those who enjoy the works of Doyle and/or Mann, The Will of the Dead is a fun read. It delivers exactly what you expect from a Sherlock Holmes adventure, while infusing some of Mann’s own signature creations.