Review: The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar by Liese Sherwood-Fabre

Will Sherlock be able determine what happened before more than one family is destroyed? — The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes Book 3 by @lsfabre

Two Years at Oxford:

Although he never mentioned the name, Sherlock shares with Dr. Watson that he spent two years “at university.” By the 1870s, several universities offered higher education to those not members of the Church of England. “Going to university,” however, referred only to Oxford or Cambridge—the only two universities in England providing the classical education directed at the upper classes. Given that Sherlock showed a lack of knowledge about the Cambridge campus in one tale, Sherlockians have surmised that he must have attended Oxford.

The university is actually a federation of “colleges” (currently 38), all of which offer similar courses of study with their own lecture halls, housing, and dining facilities. They are distinguished from one another by each having a unique “flavor,” that caters to different populations. For example, Jesus College at Oxford was founded for Welshmen. One of the most well-known colleges at Oxford is Christ Church, which began as a monastery before becoming a seat of learning under Henry VIII. Its residents have included Albert Einstein, 13 British prime ministers and Lewis Carroll. The Christ Church dining hall served as the model for the one at Hogwarts.

While “at university,” young men’s daily schedule involved chapel attendance every day, meeting a few times a week with a tutor (a fellow, or teacher, at the college) to discuss an essay or other work prepared by the student, attending the occasional lecture, and a great deal of social time with other students, including sports.

The two schools are often equated with one another, referred to in the combined term of “Oxbridge,” but a deep rivalry actually exists between them. Perhaps the most public friction between the two is the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race on the Thames occurring in each spring since 1826 (with some exceptions, such as the two World Wars and the pandemic). The 2021 boat race was relocated from the Thames due to Covid restrictions, and Cambridge won, bringing them to 85 wins over Oxford’s 80.

This boat race is the backdrop for my latest young Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar. A body is found after the race, and when Mycroft identifies the victim as a classmate, the whole family is pulled into yet another mystery to solve.

I’ve not attended a boat race, but I’ve attended other sporting events where rivalries have a deep history and can imagine how strong sentiments run (such as my alma mater TCU and SMU football teams who battle for an iron skillet). What about you? Ever attended a grudge match of some sort? 

My real life doesn’t permit me time to read, review, and post as much as I would like, so each time I sign up to participate in a book tour I have to make a heart rending choice. Do I post just  a spotlight or do I read and review too? Most often I make the correct choice, but every now and then, after posting a spotlight and reading the accompanying guest post, excerpt, or interview, I know… This is a book I should have read. This is a book that wants to be read, it deserves to be read. The pain is real, finding time to read a book ‘just for fun’ is even harder than finding time to read a book to post about.

In February I  had the pleasure of showcasing another book of Sherlokian adventures by  Liese Sherwood-Fabre. “An Unconventional Holmes: Three Unnatural Cases”. Just the blurb for this book was enough to interest my teen who is a die hard “ if Conan Doyle didn’t write it, it isn’t Sherlock Holmes,” kind of reader. For him no one catches the truth of the world’s greatest consulting detective. I think he would appreciate the amount of time and effort this author puts into her research. She has done a fabulous job of capturing the character’s essence, along with sensory perceptions of the time period.

Given the chance to post about a new Sherlock Holmes book of hers, I jumped on it. I don’t make the same mistake twice, well, not often anyways. Yes, it was the correct choice and even my teen enjoyed it or maybe he just identified with the somewhat snarky teens that will someday grow into the beloved characters we know and love.  The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar (The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes Book 3) focuses on teenaged Sherlock who is learning to use his famous logic and observation from working alongside his medically trained mother. They along, with Mycroft, get pulled into investigating the mysterious death of an acquaintance of Mycroft’s that starts with a curious case of the mistaken identity of a body pulled from the river.

This is a good solid mystery, well laid out and packed with the occasional twisty turn. Fun too are the little tidbits of Sherlock lore packed into the story, like, reasons for Sherlock’s disdain for the police as they are dismissive to his mother’s information or the fledgling Diogenes club. 

I didn’t have trouble keeping up with the story despite it being the third in the series. The family dynamic for this story is an interesting one, so I would suggest starting with book one. I certainly intend to catch up when time permits (computers really need a way of conveying air quotes).  This post includes another great guest post from the author, and I would suggest checking out more guest posts at Silver Dagger and other tour stops for more insight into the creation of this Holmesian origin story.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received an advance review copy for free through Silver Dagger Book Tours, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar
The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes Book 3
by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
Genre: Historical Mystery

Award-winning author and recognized Sherlockian scholar Liese Sherwood-Fabre’s third novel in “The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes” follows the young detective to London for the spring holiday. This CIBA first-place mystery and mayhem winner has been described by bestselling author Gemma Halliday as “a classic in the making” and Kirkus Reviews as “a multifaceted and convincing addition to Sherlock-ian lore.”

A tragedy during the 1868 Oxford-Cambridge Boat race puts Mycroft Holmes’ reputation on the line.

When Mycroft Holmes identifies a drowning victim, he is drawn into a situation that could destroy not only Lord Surminster’s name, but his own reputation as well. If ruled a suicide, the lord’s assets will be returned to the Crown, leaving his mother and siblings destitute. Should that happen, the victim’s sister has threatened to drag Mycroft’s good name through the mire. Will Sherlock be able determine what happened before more than one family is destroyed?

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I wrinkled my nose at the Thames’ murky waves and shuddered. Anything could be lurking in its fetid waters. Tugging on my collar, I glanced up at the sun’s white disk. Despite the day being on the cool side, the crush of people around me blocked any breeze. We’d managed to get spaces right by the stone wall in front of the Old Ship pub. Below us, the incoming tide was rising to cover the river’s exposed silt and sand. The Oxford-Cambridge boat race was timed to use the climbing waters to assist the rowers, and those along the route were expecting it to begin at any moment.

The sunlight sparkled off the swells, and, shielding my eyes from the glare, I studied a similar crowd gathered along the opposite bank. No empty space could be seen along that stone wall, either. So many people. All to catch a glimpse of the boat crews as they rowed past.

Rising on my toes, I leaned over the wall, checking downstream to my left for either boat appearing around the river’s bend.

“Quit fidgeting,” Mycroft said out of the side of his mouth.

I opened my own to protest, but Mother rebuked him first.

“Really, Mycroft.” She fanned herself, although I doubted it did much to cool her. “You can’t blame him. If this race doesn’t start soon, Sherlock and I are leaving. I’ll not have either of us collapsing because of the lack of oxygen in this crowd.”

My brother crossed his arms over his chest and gave a little snort. I could almost hear the protests swirling around in his brain. He hadn’t been the one to decide to come to London for the second part of the season. Or suggest we attend the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Or insist it was time for him to begin attending some of the season’s balls and parties as a country squire’s first son. After all, Father had remained at Underbyrne to attend to business affairs for the estate, and we could have too. 

Before he could actually express any of these or other sentiments out loud, a far-off shout sent a wave of excited chatter among those surrounding us. Finally, the boat race had begun. Cheers and shouts of encouragement moved up the bank as the boats passed the spectators. Those about us jostled and pushed on all sides, making me feel a little like the flotsam bobbing along in the waters below.

Mycroft bounced on the balls of his feet. While his idea of exercise consisted almost exclusively of strolling between buildings at Oxford—from his rooms to the dining hall, the rented room over a tavern he and some friends used for their Diogenes Society meetings, or to the occasional lecture—I was impressed with both his interest in the race and the exertion he expended in this display of enthusiasm.

“How long before we can see them?” I asked, glancing down the river again.

“The whole race is about twenty minutes,” my brother said without taking his eyes from the same spot where I focused. “We’re about halfway along the course, so I would estimate eight to ten minutes before they appear.”

Ten more minutes of strangers’ elbows in my ribs? I wasn’t sure anything was worth such torture.

“Excuse me, Mr. Mycroft Holmes?”

The feminine voice made us turn to face a pair of women who had somehow managed to push through the press to our position. They were obviously mother and daughter. Both had the same straight-backed-chin-raised bearing, light brown hair and tipped-up noses. The older woman wore a dark dress that, while fashionable, lacked any flourishes, indicating the final stages of mourning—not yet ready to leave her weeds completely behind. The younger woman, however, wore a pale lavender dress and a jaunty hat on top of a pile of curls.

Mycroft stared at the two, a hesitation broken by my mother’s cough. I coughed as well, but to cover my amusement. That these two ladies seemed to know my brother and had shocked him into silence gave me a certain delight. Only the opposite sex ever seemed to ruffle my brother—my mother being, of course, the exception. 

At my mother’s cue, he appeared to shake himself free of whatever had stunned him and bowed at the waist. “Forgive me,” he said when he straightened. “We’ve only been introduced once, Lady Surminster, Miss Phillips. Allow me to introduce my mother, Violette Holmes, and my brother, Sherlock. This is Lord Surminster’s mother and sister.”

“Lady Surminster, how wonderful to meet you,” Mother said. “You too, Miss Phillips.”

The older woman glanced at her daughter before saying, “We recognized you as one of Vernon’s classmates and were hoping—”

The younger woman seemed unable to restrain herself. “Vernon is missing.” She turned to Mycroft. “Have you seen him?”

Liese Sherwood-Fabre has won awards for her thrillers, romance, and literary short stories, and NYT bestselling author Steve Berry describes her writing as “gimmick-free, old-fashioned storytelling.”
In the second grade, she knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years. She draws upon these experiences to endow her characters with deep conflicts and emotions.

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