The Affair of the Mysterious Letter
Author: Alexis Hall
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
Audio Speed: 1.0x
Source: Penguin Random House Audio
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a unique and clever retelling of the Sherlock Holmes tales, set in an adventure-filled, wild fantasy world. The story is shared from the first person memoirs of Captain John Wyndham (John Watson), who is newly returned from war and comes to live with the sorcerous Miss Shaharazad Haas (Sherlock Holmes) at 221b Martyrs Walk. When an acquaintance comes to Shaharazad for help, Wyndham and Haas embark on a quest across space and time to determine who is blackmailing Eirene.
While loosely tied to the Sherlockian tales in format, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is something completely new. Packed with loose references to the original, I laughed over and over at the outrageousness of the entire tale. The story is sufficiently complex, coupled with a steep learning curve for this new and unusual sci-fi/ fantasy world, that it took time to get into the story. But once I did, I found myself engrossed.
My favorite character is our narrator, John Wyndham, who grew up in a strict religious society and finds it difficult to stray far from the niceties of his upbringing. Paired with the less-than-scrupulous Shaharazad, he manages to cling to his morales even during the most tumultuous times. He makes no apologies for his choices, and I love that he maintains an innocence even after being arrested and attacked several times.
Narration: The story is performed by the extremely talented Nicholas Boulton, a voice and stage actor who studied in London. He brings to life the narrator, John Wyndham, with a strong, crisp, British-accented voice. This alone is worthy of an A-rating; however, his talents go well beyond the single person. Each character has a wholly unique voice for dialogue, so much so that he sounds like a full cast. Whether feminine or masculine, deep or soft, alien, human, or vampire (oh my!), his accent, tone, and cadence alters to fit each character.
Overall, I enjoyed The Affair of the Mysterious Letter terribly so, with my only complaints coming in the last quarter of the story, which dragged on much longer than I would have liked. The world is complex and fascinating; equal parts intellect and humor. There are lots of silly, but well-placed jokes and intelligent wit. The narrator added much value to the whole story. I sincerely hope there will be more tales for Miss Shaharazad Haas and John Wyndham!
About the Book:
Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Miss Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.
When Miss Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.
But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Miss Haas’ stock-in-trade.