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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner by Jonathan Barnes

01/05/2012. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner in the USA - or Buy Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 1 CDs 60 minute story. Price: CD: GBP10.99 (UK), Download: GBP 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-630-0). cast: Nicholas Briggs, Richard Earl, Tracey Childs and Michel Maloney.

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With the backdrop of the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a new Sherlock Holmes audio play, ‘The Perfidious Mariner’ by Jonathan Barnes (‘The Somnambulist’, ‘The Domino Men’). An atmospheric and dark plot sees quite a few ideas used and a surprising twist with great potential for one or more sequels. The next series has already been green-lit and I can’t wait.

The one hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s demise and the loss of fifteen hundred souls might seem like a cheap gimmick for this. Indeed, with a plethora of Titanic dramas about it becomes difficult to distinguish the worthy from the worthless. ‘The Perfidious Mariner’ does as at least go some way to acknowledging the desperate sorrow at the loss of life which foreshadows, for many, the unbelievable slaughter of the innocents in the Great War.

You’ll be relieved to know that the action takes place some months after the Titanic disaster and not on board. Holmes is visited by Watson in his rural seclusion. Sherlock has become a recluse following a mistake in a case and he has lost touch with his great friend Watson whom he now refers to as a ‘colleague’. They have not met for nearly nine years and neither are the men they were. Watson has suffered a great loss that is not only a private tragedy but part of the larger one of the Titanic and he is shocked by Holmes attitude. Indeed, Holmes is exhibiting bizarre mental behaviour. Good Lord, he’s even stopped shaving!

Whilst Watson desperately tries to connect with Holmes, they are interrupted by J. Bruce Ismay, the man who lived. The owner of the Titanic’s shipping line that was ‘thrown into a half-empty lifeboat’, was reviled by society for the rest of his life. Here he is used to draw the old friends into a case which may offer some closure for Watson.

The real Ismay offers a complex set of characteristics highly minable for this drama. We may have different attitudes towards him in the 21st century but this sympathy is tempered with our own moral standards and what we believe or hope we might do in those circumstances. This was a very judgmental society, shortly after the events in this story, men were given white feathers for not fighting in a war that was killing hundreds of thousands. Although Ismay lived for twenty-five years after, he never recovered from this episode in his life. A very suitable person then to insert into this dark drama where he believes he is being stalked by a dead woman.

Barnes has created an excellent thriller with Michel Maloney in good form as the realisation of Ismay. Tracey Childs plays an important character and her quietly spoken performance adds another dimension to this. She s known from Big Finish’s Elizabeth Klein stories with the Seventh Doctor and they are well worth seeking out, starting with Colditz. The reclusive and bearded Holmes (Nicholas Briggs) is an older and less confident character than his previous incarnations, his party tricks of deduction are shouted down by his old friend. Doctor Watson (Richard Earl) is a thoughtful and studied person with a great weight upon his shoulders.

‘The Perfidious Mariner’ is an entirely new story for audio commissioned by Big Finish specifically to be released at the time of the Titanic’s one hundredth anniversary. It is the aftermath that looms as the threatening iceberg in this drama. They were dark days and, in a short time, about to get darker. This gothic take on the era is nicely judged. Although blatantly on the lifeboat of Titanic anniversary stories, it doesn’t diminish the loss of life and is respectful of the history. Avoid 3D Kate and Leo and cardboard ‘Drownton Abbey’ but I heartily recommend the hirsute Holmes again.

Sue Davies

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