The Sign of Fear

Written by Robert Ryan
Review by Karen Warren

It is 1917, and the ageing Sherlock Holmes has retired to the countryside, while Dr Watson, back from the war, is attending to the wounded in London. Their detective days are behind them, until Watson finds himself embroiled in a number of mysteries, including some particularly gruesome kidnappings. He and Holmes are gradually drawn into a world of danger and intrigue, where their adversaries might be German spies, jewel thieves or enemies closer to home.

The Sign of Fear is one of a series based on the adventures of Holmes and Watson during the First World War, but it can be read as a standalone novel. Devotees of Sherlock Holmes might find these books grittier and more hard-hitting than the originals; perhaps this is to be expected, as the War replaced all earlier certainties. I enjoyed the historical background: the book was populated with real people and explored the realities of wartime London. It shows how war can be used as a cover for crime, personal ambition and brutality, and how it can bring out the best—but more often the worst—in people. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, and I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical thrillers.