Monday, May 6, 2013

A Terrifying Disease, A Man Who's a Woman and Sherlock Holmes

First Paragraph:

"I never considered writing anything but science papers. Not until my family and I moved into a house with a history dating back to 1529. While ripping off all 'modern improvements' to restore some of the house's historic charm, we found a treasure. Hidden underneath the attic's floorboards, among thick layers of clay, sand and larch needles, were a dozen slender books bound in dark leather. These were the journals of Dr. Kronberg."

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The Devil's Grin by Annelie Wendeberg is the first book in the 'Kronberg Crimes' series. 

Set in Victorian England, this book is a mix of fiction and historical facts. Disease coats the streets and Jack the Ripper haunts the alleys. People will do anything to survive.

The year is 1889 and Doctor Anton Kronberg has been asked for assistance in identifying a possible cholera victim at the Hampton Water Treatment Works by Scotland Yard's Inspector Gibson. Anton works at Guy's Hospital in London in the ward of infectious diseases. The best bacteriologist and epidemiologist in England. Cholera is one of many constant threats and the hospital is always packed three to a bed, leading to the further spread of disease. 

Going to inspect the dead man, Anton meets the famous Sherlock Holmes, who surprises both Anton and the reader by discovering that Anton Kronberg is in fact Anna Kronberg, a female doctor who earned her degree in Germany. Anna is reasonably upset. This is an era where women are forbidden to study medicine or become doctors. The only women in a medical field are nurses. Anna works very hard to keep her identity secret by changing her countenance and her appearance, even going as far as to keep a bag filled with water in her trousers so her colleagues can occasional see her 'peeing' at the urinals, to leave no doubt in their minds that she is a man. If her secret was ever revealed, she would be incarcerated for life.

Anna is just as sharp and observant as Sherlock. The two decide to work with each other (which neither of them are particularly used to or pleased about) after finding a few discrepancies on the body. The two will have to learn to deal with one another and try to get along with someone just as knowledgable as themselves. They will no doubt get on each other's nerves, but there is amicability and understanding there too. 

As they begin to see more into the dark underworld and corrupt corporations that are involved, they begin to realise just how deep they're in. Could the man have been killed by tetanus? If so, how could he contract it without any deep wounds or without consuming a tetanus infected animal? Is it possible he was murdered? They must also learn to battle with their own dark demons and consider how far either of them are willing to go to find the truth, even if it means risking their lives or that of others. 

The title of this book comes from one of the symptoms of a tetanus victim- a grin. It is a telltale sign of tetanus. 

The characters are intriguing. Sherlock is Sherlock. What can I say about this character that isn't already known to every person under the sun? His depiction here is very similar to his original character. Obviously, there will be slight discrepancies, not just because of a different author, but also because he's interacting with people he's never met before. All people act differently depending on the person they're with, including Sherlock. For fans of Sherlock, don't worry, he is still true to himself, if not for the occasional phrase I couldn't quite picture him saying. 

Sherlock himself is already a character who's interesting enough to carry the story, but Anna/Anton's character was equally compelling, to say the least. Forced to hide her gender, she spends so much time as a man, that she questions her identity. It's not that she's transgender or confused about her sexuality, but more that she has seen the pros and cons of being a member of each gender and she wonders which one it is better to be and which one she is more suited to. Add to that the fact that she must completely shed her female self, so as not to be discovered, and it's not wonder she's unsure. 

Like Sherlock, she will push herself to her physical and mental limits to get an answer. Together, the chemistry these two characters share is palpable. I'm bringing it up because I'm sure people will wonder, but the only similarity between her and Irene is that the two are equally as intelligent as Sherlock himself. They can outwit him. But Irene is very sure of her gender and obviously loves being a woman and the ability to make Sherlock uncomfortable with it. Anna isn't even sure what gender she wants to be. Their personalities are very different and these two characters are not to be confused.

Anna and Sherlock can singlehandedly carry this story. The plot is interesting and dark, but even if it had been terrible, I believe that Anna and Sherlock would still make it work. They're just that entertaining and thought-provoking. 

An incomplete ending, this is a series that connects all its stories through plot, not just characters. It is not often that the same story will continue through the series. The same villain perhaps, but generally when you start a new book, a new plot begins as well. For those who aren't fans of endings without resolution, there is enough of a conclusion to satisfy. We just aren't given the whole picture. The final line will leave fans of both this book's characters and Sherlock Holmes hurrying to the next instalment. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own. 

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