Before we get started…
A Few Thoughts on The Devil’s Grin:
For those of you not yet familiar with Devil’s Grin, here’s an idea of what you can expect (pulled from Amazon):
“In Victorian London’s cesspool of crime and disease, a series of murders remains undiscovered until a cholera fatality is found floating in the city’s drinking water supply. Dr Anton Kronberg, England’s best bacteriologist, is called upon to investigate and finds evidence of abduction and medical maltreatment. While Scotland Yard has little interest in pursuing the case, Kronberg pushes on and crosses paths with Sherlock Holmes. The detective immediately discovers Kronberg’s secret – a woman masquerading as a man in order to practice medicine – a criminal deed that could land her in prison for years to come. But both must join forces to stop a crime so monstrous, it outshines Jack the Ripper’s deeds in brutality and cold-bloodedness.”
Intrigued? You should be! I (‘S.Sigerson’) just finished reading this book and must say that I enjoyed it greatly! Anna/Anton is a strong, complex, and highly intelligent character with a sharp wit, sharp tongue, and an admirably solid set of morals. Morals she is stubbornly determined to defend to the very end, regardless of the danger and personal cost. She is a vibrant, glowing anomaly in a world of often terrifying darkness. Step-by-step, we follow her through the atmospheric adventure alluded to above as she works her way deeper and deeper into the dismal underworld of Victorian medicine. Along the way, she stumbles into the path of another great Victorian anomaly…our old friend Sherlock Holmes. They both set their sights on resolving the same problem, but choose to go about it in two very different ways, grudgingly ‘agreeing’ to accept each other’s intermittent presence (but not without both getting in their fair share of biting snark).
This is a very different sort of Sherlockian fiction from what I’ve otherwise read thusfar. Rather than being what I’ve understood as a ‘proper pastiche’ (something that attempts to ‘fit into’ the canon by mimicking Doyle’s style and structure), this is the story of an otherwise unrelated character who’s lifeline just happens to cross with that of Holmes. It doesn’t carry (for me at least) an especially ‘canonical’ feel, but then I don’t believe it’s intended to. Throughout the story, the emphasis remains on Anna and her own inner dialog (because yes, it really is more of a ‘dialog’), and not on Holmes. That isn’t to say, however, that we don’t hear from Holmes. Anna interacts with him regularly and I found it deeply refreshing and thought-provoking to explore and examine his character through the smart eyes of an absolute ‘outsider’. Annelie provides us with a very different image of Holmes; hinting at hidden personality facets, while also directly underscoring the fact that every person who interacts with him within his own fictional timeline is going to see something different – just the way every reader of the canon does. She also gives us lots of lovely little colorful details that really bring her scenery to life. My personal favorite is how she draws our attention to the chemical stains decorating the walls and ceiling above Holmes’ desk almost the very instant Anna enters the flat for the first time.
I found myself really getting into this book and I read it rather voraciously. I even made it a point one day to go for a long evening walk around the local reservoir just for the effect. (The structure isn’t ‘period’ in the slightest, but the building is made to look a little as though it were.) It was a gorgeous autumn day and there were a lot of people about, but the space suddenly had a vaguely sinister feel to it. When viewed from behind (the side facing the water), the building always looks mysteriously shut up and dark, making it feel semi-abandoned, which it of course isn’t. Staring at the water, I found myself feeling very grateful that I needn’t be fearful of things like cholera in my morning coffee. Nor did I encounter any bloated bodies.