When a woman goes missing just as Moriarty’s deadliest agent is released from prison, the denizens of Baker Street are on the case!
Back in 2016, ‘The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes‘ seemed to close the book on the Great Detectives adventures with Big Finish. And it did. But, as we know, not all the Baker Street exploits of Holmes and Watson got told in their time together. So writer Jonathan Barnes takes us back for a tale of misplaced ambition, ill-gotten fortunes, loves found and lost.
This release comes with a bonus story ‘The Adventure of the Fleet Street Transparency’. We covered this back in December so be sure to check out review of that as well!
The recently-widowed Watson brings his friend Sherlock Holmes an extraordinary case. The wife of his barber has vanished after sighting a man linked to her dark and undisclosed past. The man in question has connections to London’s underworld and possibly an interest in the occult. But Holmes is distracted when the murderous Colonel Sebastian Moran – an agent of the late, unlamented Professor Moriarty – is freed from prison with the apparent aid of Holmes’ own brother. As Sherlock’s obsession with reclaiming a past victory grows, Watson strikes out on his own to find the missing woman.
Three Out of Four
Having listened back to Sacrifice in preparation for this review, I definitely prefer the three episode format used here. The four-parter works for a grand final adventure in the previous box-set but the smaller scale of this story doesn’t call for it. That said, the first episode is a bit slow and at times feels like a preamble for the main plot to get going. But when it hits near the end of part one – with the introduction of the intriguing Genevieve Dumont – it finally feels like the game is afoot.
The action moves away from London and focuses on the titular Blackstone Grange for parts two and three. Watson finds himself a reluctant guest of the charismatic and ambitious Jim Sheedy. Deep in the lion’s den, this is where the tension really starts to ramp up as a cast of dubious servants regard Watson warily. Tomm Coles gives a terrific performance as the butler Ferndown that really sells the atmosphere of the setting. With the introduction of a number of characters, not to mention the title, you might expect this to become an Agatha Christie style chamber piece. But really it ends up pastiching more of the Baskerville style as Watson stumbles across clues during his visit to the Grange. This sometimes makes the scenes feel a bit unfocused but these all pay off in the end.
Exterminate, My Dear Watson
Big Finish executive producer Nicholas Briggs steps back into the part of Sherlock Holmes. A role he’s played on both audio and stage, Briggs cuts a commanding figure as Holmes. Far from homaging any particular interpretation of Holmes, it seems Briggs has taken cues from the original stories alone. While his voice is recognisable, even without a ring modulator, Briggs employs a sharp quality that instantly dispels any lingering sense that this is anyone other than Sherlock Holmes. As a major part of this story is very personal for the character, it’s fitting that Briggs plays Holmes with an air of frustration. It’s rare to hear Holmes played with anything less than total self-assurance, so this is fascinating.
At Home with the Watsons
Lucy Briggs-Owen absolutely steals the show as Dumont, giving an impressive performance in an already stunning cast. She and Barnes have crafted a perfect character to beguile Dr. Watson, played by Richard Earl with whom Briggs-Owen has great chemistry. Their final scene together sets things up for a really exciting continuation of the story. But it also ties up their arc in this release pretty neatly. Unfortunately, that puts the other plot thread left dangling into sharper contrast…
Tune in Next Time…
In my review of Fleet Street Transparency and a recent Torchwood release, I wrote about stories that feel like they’ve been cut short for the sake of sequels. Blackstone Grange‘s climax comes close to the same thing but not to the same extent. We gets hints at the end, including a great final scene, that a larger plot is at work. And both Watson and Holmes are given information that surely needs to be followed up on. Though when and if that will be done remains to be seen. While this story does reach a conclusion, it feels like there was too much left dangling to be completely satisfying. Setting up future stories at the expense of the one you’re telling will always have diminishing returns and, personally, I felt that this was the case here.
‘The Master of Blackstone Grange’ proves to be a slow and methodical story that takes its time over plot elements. While three parts instead of four undoubtedly resulted in a tighter and more flowing story, I wonder if it deprived Barnes the chance to explore these ideas in more detail. The ending in particular feels like it could have been drawn to a more climactic close. Nevertheless, its mixture of character development (particularly for Watson) and the tantalising use of red herrings make for an unpredictable and heartfelt outing for Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes: The Master of Blackstone Grange is available to buy now from the Big Finish website.
This title was released in March 2018. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2018, and on general sale after this date.
1. The Master of Blackstone Grange
The arrival at Baker Street of a client who, unusually, seeks advice from both men brings to their attention the existence of an isolated manor house in the east of England known as Blackstone Grange. The place, for so long the locus of wild rumours of witchcraft and sorcery, has acquired a very modern new master – a charismatic socialite named ‘Honest’ Jim Sheedy, a man of boundless ambition whose influence over British society appears, inexplicably, to be growing.
The detective learns that Colonel Sebastian Moran, released early from prison, travels to meet with Sheedy on the very day of his freedom. But curiosity curdles into obsession when Mycroft warns his brother, in the strictest possible terms, against investigating any further.
2. The Adventure of the Fleet Street Transparency
London at night.
Westminster, at the end of the age of empire . And here, two days before Christmas… an extraordinary mystery is about to unfold…
Footprints in the snow, an unfathomable assault in a Turkish bath… Watson is baffled, but Holmes has a growing suspicion that a seemingly fantastical encounter will become a reality.
Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes), Richard Earl (Dr John Watson), Harry Peacock (‘Honest’ Jim Sheedy), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Genevieve Dumont), Tim Bentinck (Mycroft Holmes / Apothecary), John Banks (Colonel Sebastian), Eve Webster (Grace / Ettie), Nigel Hastings (Horace Grigg), David Birrell (Inspector Felix Abell / Lord Arthur Perowne), Tomm Coles (Ferndown / Chilcott), Blake Ritson (Dr Kemp), Anjella Mackintosh (Lydia Rangeley / Sally), Leighton Pugh (Hubert Rangeley / Clark / Mr Blythe / Impressario). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producers Nicholas Briggs & Ken Bentley
Line Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs