Sherlock Holmes and The Pandemic of Death (Sherlock Holmes and the American Literati)

Written by Daniel Victor
Review by Susie Helme

The Covid-19 crisis having made such an enormous impact on our cultural consciousness, it is about time we started seeing titles with this theme. This pandemic, of course, placed in its proper historical context, refers to the previous one, the Spanish Flu of 1918. The American novelist Sinclair Lewis comes to Dr. Watson for advice on his upcoming work, a novel about a doctor championing the fight against a deadly disease. The recounting of the meeting pokes gentle fun with Watson’s astonishment at the American’s brashness and Sinclair’s amusement at the Englishman’s smugness.

The Spanish Flu being too raw in the writer’s memory, he has decided to write about the plague. It’s a painful subject for Watson, too, plus he’s familiar with Sinclair’s tendency toward satire. They consult Sherlock Holmes.

As a detective story, it’s not terribly exciting, involving the professional reputations of two bacteriologists and whether or not Pfeiffer’s bacillus was the cause of the Spanish flu, but as a Sherlock Holmes story—using logic, eliminating the impossible—it fits the bill. Oddly, though Homes solves the case, he declines to reveal his solution to the police. Perhaps the beans are spilled in Sinclair’s book, Arrowsmith—I haven’t read it.

The writing style matches quite deliciously Conan Doyle’s Victorian feel. A good deal of the story, as the party discusses the demise of Watson’s late lab partner Martin Aaron-Smith, is told in the past perfect tense, and I always find that uncomfortable, although perhaps it’s in keeping with the Victorian feel. Though a very easy read, the complex language means it is not one for a younger readership.

It’s a clever device, taking an actual novel and going back in time to create a story about its inspiration. This is Book 7 in the Sherlock Holmes and the American Literati series.