M.J. Trow is an Englishman who has won a growing following for his novels that make sideways use, as it were, of the Sherlock Holmes roster of immortal characters. Taking the unusual name "Sholto" (from a character in the second Holmes adventure, The Sign of Four), Trow combines it with the figure of the bumbling Scotland Yard inspector, Lestrade, Sherlock Holmes's frequent bête noire, to give modern readers a cockeyed re-envisioning of the early 20th-century mystery of manors. And manners, too.
Think Monty Python, with all the wickedly witty erudition that implies, and then try to imagine that troupe in charge of a season of Mystery! Trow makes his Lestrade uxorious (he has a devoted wife, Fanny) and a doting father, to boot. In Lestrade and the Magpie, the now retired Superintendent Lestrade finds himself faced with a case in which his daughter's missing-in-action fiancé (WWI is over and the year is 1920) has turned up murdered in a London hotel room. But where had he been during those intervening three years, since the war office sent its official telegram?
Bernard Shaw, the Irish nationalist hero Michael Collins, Lawrence of Arabia, the sexologist Havelock Ellis, the Russian pretender Anastasia, and the very late Marie Antoinette all have some part in the action. For Sholto Lestrade, who narrowly missed sailing on the Titanic and who is surely bound to wind up in Queen Mary's bedroom after taking a wrong turn in Buckingham Palace, history is what serves as the backdrop to his life. Near-ceaseless wordplay, continual lashings of highbrow whimsy, and a steady stream of literary in-jokes keep Trow's readers on their toes. If the plots are twisty (and they are), even more delightfully convoluted is the author's mind. Let's just be glad there are no quizzes afterwards. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
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