THE THREE LOCKS by Bonnie Macbird
Collins Crime Club, 406 page HC, £14.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
It has long been established that readers and writers of horror, SF and fantasy also have an interest in crime. Many horror novels, and a good few SF novels, have their plots deeply rooted in a crime, many of which have a puzzle to be solved. It is a way that the resolution is achieved, the unravelling of the mystery that attracts. The stories and their detectives that are good at untangling situations are the ones we remember many years after their creation. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes, is one of them.
Because of the way that Copyright Law is formulated in the UK, work enters the public domain seventy years after the author’s death. Since Conan Doyle died in 1930, since 2000, no permission has been needed to use his characters in any medium. The fascination of Holmes as a problem solver has never waned, resulting in a plethora of versions and approaches to this detective’s continuation in fiction.
The Three Locks is Bonnie MacBird’s fourth foray into Holmes’s Victorian universe but is set earlier than the other three. The title is a play on the various meanings of the word lock; the only one missing is a lock of hair. The tale itself is bracketed by the mystery of a silver box that Dr John Watson (who has shared lodging with Holmes for six years at this point) receives in the post fourteen years later than intended. The letter suggests that it was his mother’s and should have been delivered on his twenty-first birthday. It is locked with a special mechanism that makes it very difficult to open even by an experienced locksmith.
Shortly afterwards, Holmes and Watson are embroiled in two separate cases. In one, the magician and escapologist Dario Borelli has been threatened. His wife wants Holmes to find out if it is her ex-lover, Colangelo, another stage magician, and to prove that Borelli did not tamper with the apparatus that cost Colangelo the tip of his finger. Holmes agrees as he is already experimenting with methods of escapology. The locks in this case are the ones that Borelli must get past when chained and lowered into a tank of water.
At the same time, a young deacon from Cambridge implores Holmes to find a young woman he admires who has gone missing. He later finds her mutilated doll in the canal at Jesus Lock. Both cases begin as investigations that Holmes can turn his powers of observation to, both escalate to murder. Though there is much too-ing and fro-ing between London and Cambridge, there is enough in this case, and a resolution to show the qualities of Holmes’s methods of detection, the other tends to peter out ending with an assumption that may or may not be true. The paths of both cases cross at one point. This seems too much of a coincidence as the incident appears to be just that, and while it sheds light on the character of Madame Borelli, it doesn’t seem to have enough relevance to the interpretation of the murders.
For those who are enthusiasts of the Sherlock Holmes franchise, there are plenty of elements here to delight and is an example of how an enduring character can continue to capture the imagination more than a hundred years since his inception.