The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes
Released by Big Finish
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: December 2013
Acclaimed novelist Jonathan Barnes made his Big Finish writing debut with 2012’s The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner, set during the period of Holmes’ retirement in the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and prior to his final canonical adventure His Last Bow. Barnes was therefore a natural choice to write this latest offering. The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes is an ambitious box set of four new adventures set over the course of forty years of the lives of Holmes and Watson.
The opening story The Guttering Candle is set in the summer of 1880 prior to Holmes and Watson’s first meeting relates Holmes’ first encounter with Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard whilst investigating the mystery of a body pulled from the river Thames, whilst simultaneously presenting an account from Watson from his time serving in Afghanistan of an unusual encounter with a wounded young Englishman named Christopher Thrale, very well played by Blake Ritson. The inter-cutting between the two stories is well-handled and both set up events which are paid off later on.
The Adventure of the Gamekeeper’s Folly finds our heroes some fifteen years later, following Holmes' return from exile in The Empty House. It presents an adventure which Watson is clearly unwilling to be sharing as the outcome for Holmes is not entirely satisfactory. It does however pick up several threads from the first story and the central performance by Amy Ewbank as Eliza Hinderclay is a particular highlight.
The third story, The Adventure of the Bermondsey Cutthroats, moves events on to 1903. In The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner a mention was made of a terrible event which had caused Holmes to retire early despite still being at the height of his deductive powers. This is story of that event and it contains some genuinely surprising twists to the extent that the listener may be deceived into thinking that the ongoing mysteries from the first story have been tied up.
The final adventure, for now at least, The Sowers of Despair, is a dark tale set in 1919. Holmes himself is forced to act as narrator as he has dragged his “faithful Boswell” Dr Watson into danger, seemingly for the last time. Briggs clearly relishes the opportunity to take over from his co-star Earl as narrator, however Barnes’ script remains very much in keeping with Conan Doyle’s style of first person narration. This story sees the welcome return, from The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner, of the delightfully villainous Tracey Childs as Mrs Curbishley, a worthy adversary about whom many mysteries remain. Having seemed to bring events to a climax in the previous story this is a pleasing finale in which the revelations and surprises as to what has really being going on in the shadows for the last forty years are brought to light and concludes the ongoing mystery with an amusing coda.
Overall, this box set was certainly not an ordeal but rather a delight and this listener will be very much looking forward to the next box set release of four brand new adventures by Barnes, The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes, due in December 2014. This promises to inform us of the mysterious period of Holmes’ life following his apparent death at Reichenbach Falls.