Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series is about Sherlock Holmes as brought into the modern era by a well-trained team of scientists led by hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick. The first two books in Osborn’s series are THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL and THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED.
The first novel, THE ARRIVAL (for short), is about Holmes’s first experiences in the modern era. He was brought to our world because Chadwick’s team was tuned in on him as he went over the Reichenbach Falls. While the team was only supposed to observe, Chadwick couldn’t help but intervene; she’d been trained in the past to help others as a reserve police officer, and due to that training, she couldn’t just let Holmes die. But lest you think Holmes is coming into a world where no one knows him, think again; Chadwick’s Earth realizes that Holmes, in our world, is fictional, but believes that Robert A. Heinlein’s “World as Myth” concept was on to something. That’s why they went looking for a universe where Holmes was real in the first place.
Now, you might be wondering, how did Chadwick manage to grab hold of Holmes despite being in a different universe altogether? She did so through the top-secret Tesseract device, which is how her group of scientists can safely observe multiple universes. Before Chadwick grabbed Holmes, no one was quite sure what would happen if a modern-day person transferred — briefly or otherwise — into a universe that wasn’t his or her own. Obviously, since Chadwick and Holmes both survived going to a different universe than the one he or she was born, this can’t help but cause some major plot complications down the road — interesting ones, that rely as much on science as they do on the knowledge of Holmes as the world’s detective par excellence.
So, we have multiple universes. We have a fictional character, Holmes, who’s been given a thorough and realistic grounding in a non-fictional universe due to the “World as Myth” concept (Osborn references Heinlein exactly, though the concept itself is probably much older). We have a very competent hyperspatial physicist in Chadwick, who becomes Holmes’s best friend and confidante in fairly short order, and does so in a thoroughly logical fashion. Yet because Chadwick is still a reasonably young woman (in her late thirties, as is Holmes), and because she’s extremely bright and appreciates Holmes for his mind as well as his body, it’s obvious a romance is possible between the two whether Holmes realizes it at first or not.
And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s a very nifty mystery at the heart of the story, to wit: why, after Holmes is brought forward in time and across universes, is it that the Tesseract Project runs into serious distress? Is this because there’s a group out there who wants the technology for itself? And if so, why cause this specific sort of trouble at all?
These questions will be answered, thoroughly and enjoyably, but as in most Holmesian mysteries, they only lead to more and broader questions. And while logic chain follows logic chain amidst Holmes getting up to speed with our modern-day language, culture, idioms, etc., the deepening friendship between Chadwick and Holmes helps to keep the reader focused while giving Holmes an understandable motivation to fully integrate himself into our present-day reality.
And there’s a good reason why Holmes needs to do this; if he goes back to his own time and universe, he could potentially cause all sorts of problems with that universe. Yet even the smartest and best-prepared man in the world — or of all the multiverse — has to feel melancholy from time to time considering he’s away from everything he knew. All the people. All the settings. Everything. Which is why Holmes’s ruminations matter, even though there aren’t many of them; they help remind the reader that Holmes is real, as real as Chadwick, and has just as many things to worry about as anyone else. (If not more so.)
Osborne’s next book in the series is AT SPEED (in the short form), where Holmes and Chadwick must figure out what the bad guys who caused the Tesseract Project to stall out are actually doing. These bad guys have a funny tendency of coming up dead in ways that seem beyond prediction; it’s elementary, my dear reader, that the world’s greatest detective is both needed and necessary to solve this mystery. Because before Holmes and Chadwick can stop the bad guys, they first have to understand what they’re all about or they haven’t a prayer.
Of course, by this time, Holmes and Chadwick have become extremely close. This is a good thing, as the bad guys have caused them to go “on the run” (if you can call being in a first class hotel such) and to stay hidden; they’re thrown together, and of course their relationship both deepens and runs into some rough spots. This is because Holmes is in love with Chadwick, yet isn’t easy on himself as he believes for the most part that physical love is exalted way too much, while being companions and friends is not. And Chadwick’s had her own share of problems in the past, mostly because she’s a brilliant woman who hasn’t been able to find a man who’s up to her weight, intellectually speaking, so the fact that their relationship has turned sexual means there are realistic complications aplenty.
One thing to keep in mind here; the first book is closer to a “normal” Sherlock Holmes mystery in that there’s little sex (though there is love of the agape sort) and it’s closer to a traditional action-adventure plot. Here, there’s still action and adventure, but the romance is a big part of the plotline, so you must be aware of it or you won’t appreciate what happens even though it makes perfect sense.
Now, is this “explicit” sex, as one Amazon reviewer put it? I don’t think so. This is PG-13 sex, not R or X-rated stuff; this is what you’d see out of any committed couple who cares about each other, nothing more and nothing less. So don’t let it put you off.
Getting back to the mystery, of course Holmes ends up having to go back to his own continuum as that’s where the clues are. But he can’t stay long due to the fact he really should’ve died (and would’ve, had Chadwick not grabbed him); what will he do in his universe? How will what he does synch up with Arthur Conan Doyle’s “resurrection story” (i.e., the last story of Sherlock Holmes)? And what will happen to Chadwick after she sees it all?
Ultimately, the mystery is solved with a traditional Holmesian explanation at the end as to why the bad guys were doing what, and what Holmes believed they were planning to get out of it. (Chadwick puts in the traditional Watson parts, albeit with a flair all her own.) And the only remaining mystery is, will Holmes stay with Chadwick, or not? (Hint, hint: feel free to expect a happy ending.)
Ultimately, both of the first two books in the Displaced Detective series are faithful to the Sherlock Holmes milieu and mythos. Holmes acts like himself, albeit with a bit more heart than head; the romance between Holmes and Chadwick makes perfect sense in context, and the mysteries being solved are appropriately complex. That’s why they’re such a pleasure to read.
Bottom line: buy these books, whether you love science fiction, Sherlock Holmes, realistic romance, or just enjoy cracking good yarns. (You’ll be glad you did.)
Grades: THE ARRIVAL — A-plus; AT SPEED — A.
— reviewed by Barb
One further note: Osborn’s next novel in this series, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, will be reviewed next week here at Shiny Book Review.