Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
An “inverted mystery” is a story that follows a criminal through the planning and commission of a crime–usually murder–from initial conception through the culprit’s ultimate downfall and apprehension (think Law & Order: Criminal Intent). The focus is on the criminal’s mindset and how his dark scheme unravels. Tim Major’s The New Adventure of Sherlock Holmes novel The Back-to-Front Murder is a twist on this subgenre… sort of. Beginning with the classic Sherlockian setup—a client with a curious conundrum—Major’s novel unravels the puzzling murder of a London widower whom it seems no one would have any reason to want dead, least of all Holmes’s new client. The trouble is, the client did plan the murder, down to the very last detail.
As Watson tells us, popular mystery novelist “Darien Collinbourne” (real name Abigail Moone) plots her tales of intrigue the wrong way round: by conceiving of a crime, selecting a victim, and devising a sinister method of dispatching him. (Nota bene: I think this is actually how most mystery authors work—present company included. So the “back-to-front” description of the case doesn’t quite ring true). But when Moone’s latest imaginary victim really turns up dead, by the very method she’d devised, Holmes and Watson have a puzzling case on their hands. Who really wanted elderly loner Ronald Bythewood dead, and why frame Moone? Or is the clever novelist hiding more than her true identity?
In true Sherlockian fashion, The Back-to-Front Murder relies on Sherlock’s eye for eclectic minutia to solve the crime, and Holmes leaves the stage for great swaths of text, leaving Watson and Moone to carry the tale. Fans of the original Holmes canon will appreciate Major’s efforts to lean into tradition. Major’s Sherlock Holmes is just as superior in intellect as his original forbear, the crime as impossible to piece together without Holmes’s help.
But many readers might appreciate more of an opportunity to join the chase alongside Holmes and Watson, which is all but impossible according to the intriguing and twisty truth behind Bythewood’s murder. In the solution to the mystery, some large loose threads remain, and major characters vanish entirely from the tale along the way, never to return. But it’s worth reading to the end to learn exactly what Bythewood has been up to, who killed him, and how. Because you’ll never figure it out on your own.
The Back-to-Front Murder is available at bookstores now and here at Amazon.