Review ~ Doctor Who: Devil in the Smoke

This book was provided to me by BBC Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Who: Devil in the Smoke by Justin Richards

Cover via Goodreads

Madame Vastra, the fabled Lizard Woman of Paternoster Row, knew death in many shapes and forms. But perhaps one of the most bizarre of these was death by snow…

On a cold day in December, two young boys, tired of sweeping snow from the workhouse yard, decide to build a snowman – and are confronted with a strange and grisly mystery. In horrified fascination, they watch as their snowman begins to bleed…

The search for answers to this impossible event will plunge Harry into the most hazardous – and exhilarating – adventure of his life. He will encounter a hideous troll. He will dine with a mysterious parlour maid. And he will help the Great Detective, Madame Vastra, save the world from the terrifying Devil in the Smoke. (via Goodreads)

This novella was published back in December before last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen.” The episode set up the  Silurian Madame Vastra, her human wife Jenny Flint, and Sontaran Strax as investigators and Doctor-watchers in Victorian England. A running joke in the episode is that Madame Vastra is the true Great Detective, usually mistaken for Sherlock Holmes. It’s an interesting idea to a Holmes fan and I was intrigued to see a Doctor-less Vestra-as-Holmes fiction. How fun could a Holmes story with a Doctor Who twist be? Unfortunately, this tale is more of a very watered down Who episode. I kind of felt like this was written for a young audience. Although a murder mystery, the dead body is only seen “on screen” once, and while Vestra and Jenny’s relationship is prominent in the show, it isn’t mentioned at all in this fiction.

About halfway through this story, it occurred to me that Doctor Who doesn’t really obey the rules of Sherlock Holmes. While mysterious things happen, the causes are rarely explained by something in the “real” world. It’s usually a matter of the Doctor remembering some obscure bit of knowledge that the audience doesn’t have a chance of knowing. I’d say that while my love of Sherlock Holmes comes from solving the mystery, my love of Doctor Who comes from the presentation of the mystery. This story starts with a good presentation of a mystery: The dead body of a woman is  found in a snowman that two boys just finished making.

The solution, minus the Doctor, is actually very Holmesian. My problem with it is that it relies on a very improbable, probably impossible,  real-world physics. I was also rather confounded by how the characters acted. If you’re an investigator and you hear about a murder, do you go to investigate the body or do you have a bowl of soup? I have other examples of both, but I’ll say on this side of the spoilers.

Also, on the pet peeve side of things, I’m beginning to get tired of author not naming their nouns in an effort to be “mysterious.”

“We didn’t bring any heavy weapons,” Jenny pointed out.

“I may have some things that could be of use,” Strax replied. One of them turned out to be nose bags for the horses. Another was long, metallic, and very sharp.

Why not say “Another was a sword, long and metallic and very sharp.” There’s no reason to be mysterious about it being a sword. But, for a moment, I wondered if it was meant to be something other than a sword because Richards was being vague about it.

This was a quick little read. I took me about 90 minutes  and it was fun like a Doctor Who episode should be, but unlike a TV episode, I had too much time to think about all its faults.

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Intrigued by the Doctor Who take on “The Great Detective.”
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Craft Lessons: If you’re working within the real world, you need to follow real world physics. Also, don’t be vague.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

Mystery/Crime Challenge

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