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A Samba for Sherlock : Book Review

A guest review by Jane Davis, of the book by Jo Soares.

A Samba for Sherlock, by Jose Soares, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers, Pantheon Books: New York, 1997, 277 pages.

I needed the help of Sherlock Holmes, master of detection, as I read this book. The great sleuth certainly was absent from these pages which purported to contain a hitherto unreported episode of his career. The divine Sara Bernhardt is on tour in Rio de Janeiro, in the summer of 1886, when the Brazilian Emperor has a rare Stradivarius stolen. Sara suggests he summon the brilliant English detective, Sherlock Holmes. Simultaneously, two young women are murdered in a most grisly manner with violin strings entwined on their bodies. This is definitely a time to call Sherlock it seems.

The Sherlock Holmes character Mr. Soares brings to these pages is NOT the one created by the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Nor is it the same one so many other novelists have recreated so very well. This Sherlock Holmes is a foppish, lustful, clumsy, gluttonous buffoon who carelessly knocks over valuable objects with a sweep of his cape, is felled by an attack of diarrhea as he chases a murderer, and is so besotted by a young girl he rescues that he risks arrest for public indecency. Where is the misogynistic, agile, and ascetic sleuth of Sir Arthur? He is most certainly missing from these pages.

Any writer who attempts to perpetuate such a well-known and beloved character as Sherlock Holmes should do so either out of respect and affection, or as satire. Mr. Soares does neither. He seems so unfamiliar with Holmes that one wonders why he would even attempt to write about him. If he intends to denigrate Holmes then he fails here, too, for his barbs are dull and his witticisms ambiguous. Several times Holmes makes his characteristic deductions, backed up by his shrewd observations, only to be proven 100% wrong. Can you really believe that Holmes would be so vain as to refuse to wear glasses if his sight needed correction? Or would he be fluent in Portuguese yet ignorant of its culture?

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