When Dr. JH Doyle returns from military service in Afghanistan, he finds himself at a loss. By rights, he shouldn’t even be alive after his run in with a member of the Fallen. Now, he has a permanently damaged leg and few prospects for the future. Doyle’s military pension is barely enough to live on and he knows his temperament is far from ideal when it comes to seeking a flat mate. And then Fate brings him to Crow, the Angel of London.
Crow is not like his brethren. He has a Name and, despite the destruction of his original habitation, he has kept from Falling. Now he considers all of London to be his domain and focuses his natural curiosity on murders throughout the city. Not many would want to live with an Angel, especially one so odd as Crow. But both Doyle and Crow have been excluded from their respective societies and in one another they find kindred spirits. And while Doyle never expected to become a detective, he and Crow make a formidable team whose partnership will become the stuff of legend.
I have been an ardent fan of Sherlock Holmes and the stalwart Dr. Watson since I was kid. As a result, I’ve read quite a few pastiches of the Holmes/Watson variety. A pastiche, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, is (from the Oxford Dictionary) an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period. And that describes The Angel of the Crows perfectly. Now there are a lot of bad Sherlock pastiches out there — The Angel of the Crows isn’t one of them. It’s unique and compelling and has all the hallmarks of a good Holmes homage. And I both enjoyed and disliked it all at once. I think most readers will enjoy it, and many of the reasons that it rubbed me the wrong way don’t actually factor into this review.
Crow and Doyle (i.e. Sherlock and Watson) are both well developed and original, at least with regards to many aspects. They work perfectly as a crime-fighting duo and serve as foil for one another, equally balancing out their strengths and weaknesses. The duo tackle some of the traditional Holmesian cases, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Copper Beaches, while also chasing the most infamous London killer of them all, Jack the Ripper. The casework is solid and the writing style feels Holmes-esque, which means it’s occasionally long-winded and excessively wordy. But even that adds to the ambiance of the book.
So what are the issues? For me, one of the biggest is an underused twist. Now, I can’t get into specifics, but basically we discover multiple pieces of information about a character and, while one is used to great purpose, the other is treated as a throw away and I’m not sure what the point of it even was. It’s the curse of Chekov’s gun, which is basically if you introduce a gun in act one, you have to use it by the end of the work. And in The Angel of the Crows, we have a metaphorical gun that never really gets used and I found that highly irksome. Pacing is also somewhat problematic. There are moments when the story meanders a bit and becomes bogged down in its own premise. As a result, the writing can feel weighted and sluggish. This doesn’t happen all the time, so even the patches that read like a slog don’t last long.
I think, on some level, you have to like the Holmes/Watson dynamic to enjoy The Angel of the Crows. You might enjoy the books or BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’ Elementary. Regardless, if you’re a fan of one of those, then you’ll probably enjoy The Angel of the Crows. The pacing can be problematic at times and the book as a whole tends to feel too proud of its gotcha moments, but as a pastiche, it’s relatively well done and most mystery enthusiasts will like it.