"The Baker Street Letters" by Michael Robertson Minotaur, 277 pp., $24.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James Many children (and some adults) correspond with Santa Claus, so it comes as no stretch that quite a few young epistolarians-- well-read, but with perhaps even grander wishes-- would beseech Sherlock Holmes for assistance. Such is the premise of Michael Robertson's debut mystery novel, an engrossing romp that could stand on its own without such a device, as appealing as it is. That's because Robertson has crafted a top-notch trio of characters-- a true triangle, as it turns ot-- who could handily headline in a "regular" novel with an interesting case tossed into the mix. Leading the pack is London barrister Reggie Heath, an overachiever from way back who's also, unsurprisingly, more than a bit of a tight azz. He's mid thirties, handsome, and overthinks most things to what he deems a reasonable conclusion. He's too logical for his own good. His two-years-younger brother, Nigel-- just as blessed in the looks department-- has nevertheless suffered in comparison to Reggie, down through the years. Whereas Reggie is a born barrister, Nigel is on the outs at the Inns of Court. Oh, the tailored black suits fit him to a fare-thee-well; it's just that his heart is not up to the legal scrum, as it were. Betwixt and thoroughly between them is a ravishing stage and cinema actress, Laura Rankin. In the beginning, she was smitten with Nigel, then Reggie showed up one evening during her run at The Adelphi theatre, and that was that. Nevertheless, Laura-- in spite of her thriving career on both sides of "The Pond"-- is almost organically drawn to both men. Although she would never admit it, she appears to possess a Freudian desire for two men who seem to make up a perfect whole: impulsive, well-meaning, caring Nigel and straight-as-a-line, full-steam-ahead Reggie. The threesome's lives are immersed in a proverbial "web of intrigue" when Nigel becomes obsessed with a pile of letters to Sherlock Holmes, seeing that his brother's practice has relocated to an office on the 200 block of Baker Street, where all such missives are delivered. Reggie's lease requires that form responses be forwarded to the correspondents, yet Nigel is perplexed by a 20-years-later, follow-up letter to a plea from a girl in Los Angeles that Mr. Holmes please locate her missing father. The action thus locates from foggy London to smoggy Southern California, where there're loads of highjinks involving a falsified document of tremendous import. Before that, a murder is committed in Reggie's office, and Nigel-- who's already off to the States-- proves the prime suspect. Another murder in L.A. is also pegged on Nigel, who's wrapped up in rescuing a damsel-in-distress: in this case, the grown-up letter writer. The adventures of the Brothers Heath offer some pleasing parallels to scenes from the Sir A. Conan Doyle oeuvre, although Reggie does seem to survive more than a reasonable rash of nasty scrapes. (Furthermore: Any American hospital would have cut him out of his clothes, which would have been ruined anyway, following the worst such scrape-- they would have been in rags, not hanging neatly in a closet in his room, but we'll leave that quibble to the eds.) With its top-drawer characters, clever premise, and dry wit, "The Baker Street Letters" ought to find a wide and satisfied audience, with great expectations of where the author may take his new series. * * *
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