Sherlock Holmes’ Assassination Vacation

Like the strippers sing in “Gypsy,” if you want to stay on stage, you gotta have a gimmick.

If you want to write a Sherlock Holmes novel, that means involving the great detective in some historical event, with “Love Boat”-style cameos of historical figures.

In “The Surrogate Assassin,” that figure is Edwin Booth, brother to John Wilkes. Someone has attempted to kill him three times, and ratther than face a public inquiry by going to the police, he has asked Holmes to investigate.

Not surprisingly, a link is found between the attacks and Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln, so Holmes and Dr. Watson sail to America with Booth to reopen the investigation into the assassination.

Writing a historical mystery is a risky business. A good one depends not only upon a good story, but accurately and vividly reviving the past. Rookie novelist Christopher Leppek writes confidently of the United States in the 1890s, and Watson’s description of the young and bustling New York City is particularly enjoyable.

However, the mystery side does not fulfill its promise. Holmes’ alternative version of the assassination relies too much on coincidence and extraordinary luck, and the resolution is very predictable.