Arthur Conan Doyle is a young medical student in Edinburgh in 1879. One of his drinking buddies, Robert Louis Stevenson, is preparing to leave for America in pursuit of his beloved, Fanny. Doyle’s favorite professor is Dr. Joseph Bell, a brilliant medical man who deduces as clearly from the living as from the dead.
Edinburgh buzzes with news of the double murder of a famous opera singer and her lover, a city clerk. Alan Lambert is tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. His brother begs Dr. Bell for assistance, and Bell pulls in Doyle as well. Nothing is quite what it seems; no one is quite telling the truth. Evidence exonerating Lambert is suppressed. By whom? Why let an innocent man hang? Bell and Doyle have to find out who -- and why -- before the hangman uses Lambert to baptize the new gallows.
Howard Engel, author of Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell, is a Toronto-based writer known for his Benny Cooperman series. This departure concentrates on Doyle and his model for Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell. Engel captures the delicious, enchanting gloom of Edinburgh as a vibrant, living essence, making the city a character in its own right. The characters are sharply drawn, distinct -- characters, not caricatures. Engel makes the reader a companion in the investigation' there are no tricks with smoke and mirrors to make the reader feel cheated. The information is there, but it’s put together cleverly and realistically.
Engel weaves in famous historical personalities such as Stevenson and Disraeli without being trite or disrespectful -- they are regular people going about their business. Some of their business marked a place in history. Other business caused them, in this tale, to cross paths with Doyle and Bell. Bell has a sense of intelligent humor that makes the journey fun as well as informative. Engel captures the spirit of Doyle’s tone in the Holmes sagas without it being a stilted or pale imitation. This is a lively, engaging page-turner of a book.