I have to admit I had low hopes for putting Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson on the Titanic, but The Titanic Tragedy surprised me and I don’t think I was unduly influenced by the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking … but it helped.
I’ll admit that the confluence of intrigues aboard the ship are a little over the top, involving anarchists, bomb plots, submarine plans and old adversaries, but somehow Seil makes it work. He also does a good job of including those familiar characters from the story, like Captain Smith, Second Officer Lightoller, White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay and the telegraph operators, while also including less famous characters like American mystery writer Jacques Futrelle and his wife. Futrelle is a real person who wrote detective short stories featuring Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, also known as “The Thinking Machine.” He works with Holmes but alas he dies when the Titanic sinks. A fun scene in the book involves Watson and Futrelle trying to escape their captivity using plot elements from Futrelle’s books.
The sinking, of course, is the icy white elephant in the room that despite Seil’s best efforts abruptly ends the story. Seil manages to avoid the iceberg until page 218 of 259 in my edition, and it still doesn’t overshadow the mystery. It actually provides a Reichenbach Falls-like backdrop, appropriate because one of the fellow passengers is James Moriarty, and if you’re confused how this is possible, you don’t know your Moriarty family history, which Seil obviously does, being a long-time member of The Sound of the Baskervilles.
I do have a few … not quite complaints … but observations. Seil may have worked a little too hard at getting some of the stock characters in this story. Mycroft, of course, provides the motivation for getting Holmes away from his bees, and I have no problem with that, but he unnecessarily introduces Irene Adler second hand into the story. That inclusion neither helps nor hinders the story.
I also found it annoying for Holmes to maintain a disguise for almost the entire story, but that’s just my own little quirk. I keep imagining Holmes looking like Holmes but then have to adjust my mental image for Holmes in disguise, and like many film and TV producers, I make Holmes’ disguise completely ridiculous and over the top. He practically ends up in my mental image with a peg leg and a parrot (he pretends to be a naval officer).
The last complaint I level Seil shares with many other authors, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I hate poor Watson always being duped, but it understandable Seil’s need for some dramatic tension and it does play into his plans to connect The Titanic Tragedy with His Last Bow, the last Holmes story from the Canon.
I’d recommend The Titanic Tragedy regardless of the timing, but obviously now that the commemorations and documentaries are fresh in your mind, this would be a perfect to view the sinking from a Sherlockian perspective.