A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle

Written by Bradley Harper
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle is invited to London by Jonathan Wilkins, an emissary of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone. Based on Doyle’s recently published Sherlock Holmes short story, “A Study in Scarlet,” Wilkins believes Doyle can be an effective consulting detective and determine the identity of what was then known as the Leather Apron murderer.

After Holmes acknowledges that his inspiration for Holmes is Joseph Bell, Wilkins agrees to include the Edinburgh surgeon and professor in the commission. The two are soon joined by Margaret Harkness, a journalist and novelist who is writing a series of novels about East End poverty under the name John Law.

The novel recalls the murders of five women by the perpetrator who takes the name Jack the Ripper, adding keen insights on police work, forensic investigation, and the art of observation in detection. It also describes the murders’ effects on the community, revealing undercurrents of suspicion cast upon Jewish tradesmen who often wore leather aprons, as well as changing attitudes about women and their place in the world.

Unlike historical crime novels that make only passing reference to the period in which they are set, A Knife in the Fog clearly resides in 1888 England. Written as a journal by Doyle, language and cadence are reminiscent of those used by Dr. John Watson in the Holmes’ chronicles. Mannerisms, behavior, and beliefs are true to the times. This is the way Arthur Conan Doyle would write, think, and act.

An incongruous turn toward the end of the book gives one pause, but it is a quibble. A Knife in the Fog breathes Doyle and his era. It is a cut above standard crime fare.