The second (and so far final) in Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost’s series of books featuring a fictionalised Arthur Conan Doyle as a character isn’t a great departure from the first. Once more, our trusty author – now thoroughly jack of Holmes – is caught up in world-changing events of a supernatural nature and must fight with Jack Sparks (Holmes’ inspiration in this world) to prevent catastrophe, and a universal loss of stiff upper lip.
On this outing, Doyle embarks on a tour of the US to escape his failing wife (and marriage). The trip to the land of the Yankee provides plenty of space for period detail, and also ensures Frost can add a fairly big dose of cowboy-and-religion imagery to the creeping Lovecraftian grimness featured in the first volume.
This time there’s fewer Cockney lads around to provide excuses for terrible appropriation of rhyming slang. This is a good thing. In their stead, however, we have a fairly stock (though appealing) Japanese priest/assassin and a prisoner cowboy with a heart of gold. There’s plenty of cut-out characters – religious adherents with the attention span of goldfish, preachers with demonic focus, mystical native Americans, Rabbis and their families who don’t cry “oy vey!” at every opportunity (but might as well), a specimen of serial killer as well as some terrible, terrible actors. They’re vibrant and thoroughly stereotypical, but that’s fine: it’s fun.
The story is serviceable, but nobody is really reading this for deep reflection on the human soul. Everything moves at a clip, and the tension rockets up in the latter part of the book where characters from the first story come out of the woodwork. It’s all cinematic, and the reader can’t help but think that handled a-la Raiders of the Lost Ark this would make a great film. Popcorn ahoy!
The problem is that the end of the story is a bit tacked on. It just… ends. There’s a certain amount of hand-waving to explain away some parts of how we’ve come from a heavily plotted, intrigue-laden conspiracy-and-dreams story to what amounts to an evil genius lair boss-battle – but it’s unsatisfying. Some characters just float off, and we’re never really given a resolution for them. It’s frustrating, and I wonder how different things would have been given a little more time or editorial input.
Still, this isn’t great cap-L Literature. But it’s a fantastically fun, pulpy read, as was the first. If you basically want more of the same, only this time with cowboys, then this is pretty much the thing for you.