Review ~ Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye

This book was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye: The World’s Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible’s Ultimate Mysteries by Len Bailey

Cover via Goodreads

Embark on a journey through the Old and New Testament with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as they explore exotic and spice-laden places in search of clues.

The detective and the doctor travel back in time with the help of a Moriarty-designed time machine to investigate ten Bible destinations, unlocking clues to ten Bible mysteries. The most fascinating crime cases are those that are already solved, those that have been investigated by the police and brought to a swift, satisfying, and almost inevitable conclusion. So it is with Bible stories which the reader may consider familiar and unremarkable. But under close scrutiny these stories give up their hidden clues, their long kept secrets. Like a jewel newly polished, they sparkle and shine with a fresh, introspective light.

While traveling back in time to witness certain scenes, Holmes and Watson unravel ten different Biblical mysteries, including the following:

  • The Hanging Tree: Why did Ahithophel hang himself?
  • Righteous Blood is Red: Is Zechariah the son of Berekiah or Jehoiada in Matthew 23?
  • You Miss, You Die: Why did David take five stones against Goliath?
  • Dead Man Walking: Why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus in John 11?

(via Goodreads)

Sherlock Holmes is a hot property. Always has been, but currently we’re experiencing a Sherlock renaissance. In addition to the usual baseline of adaptations and pastiche, there are currently two contemporary-set TV series as well as a successful movie franchise. CBS’s Elementary is the first series on a major American TV network in almost 60 years. Which means, if you want to use Sherlock Holmes to sell your product, now’s the time to take advantage.

And that is what Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye by Len Bailey feels like to me: a book taking advantage. Even when considered in only a historical light, there are some interesting little textural mysteries in the Bible. While many of the ones in this books can be addressed with a couple Google searches, Bailey does seem adept at navigating his source.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he has the Holmes chops to pull it off. The Holmes aspect is clunky and uneven. Our framing story involves Holmes building an extremely dangerous time machine, based on plans confiscated from Moriarty, to solve Biblical mysteries suggested in writing by a mysterious client. Where it might have been more appropriate (and more fun) for Holmes to have discovered a Wellsian time machine, Bailey spends a couple pages fumbling around with relativity to justify his science fiction. Presumably this is meant to give some credence and patina of science to his biblical investigations. Similarly, there is a digression on the nature of pain about a third of the way through the book. While it seems scientifically sound, it is very out of place in the flow of the book.

Holmes has a reputation for being erratic when bored, but not even I can quite buy the concept of him building a machine that could take out blocks of London, even if he did decide to building it on a flammable ship on the Thames. Likewise, the Biblical mysteries don’t seem up to snuff for Sherlock Holmes to be interested. Most of them are solved pretty simply by pointing out an illuminating detail found somewhere else in the Bible. Skipped are glaring mysteries like the size of Noah’s ark or Jonah’s time in the whale. A little science thrown at those might have been interesting.

I picked Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye partially by mistake, but was still game despite my misgivings. Holmes and religion aren’t two things that easily go together and that’s the contrast that Bailey is banking on. I could see the chapters of this book being a series of sermons at church that’s striving to engage its younger population. And these stories would be fine in that context. But they don’t work as a book. Neither the popular theology nor the Sherlock Holmes are anywhere near satisfying.

Genre: Non-fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? Chose it due to my liking of Sherlock Holmes, but misread the title. I thought it had to do with Cleopatra’s Needle.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) I did. It was a chore.
Craft Lessons: If you’re going to use a very well-know character to sell your work, you need to know that character very, very well.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

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