For the average mystery fan, when it comes to Victorian detectives, one name stands out: Sherlock Holmes. Other than perhaps Father Brown, most will know of no great detectives who were published between the first appearance of Holmes and that of Hercules Poirot. Yet detectives proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
BBC Radio 4’s series, “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes,” introduces us to a few of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries. The collection from the BBC contains all twelve episodes from three series of audio dramas. In the first series, Lestrade is relaying the incidents to a reporter who originally approached him for insight on Holmes. Instead, Lestrade gives her tales of these rivals. In the latter two, Lestrade is writing his memoirs. He’s essentially a Victorian Age Forest Gump of detecting, rubbing elbows with nine different detectives and sharing their adventures. Paul Beck, Max Carridos, and Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen make two appearances each.
Overall, fans of mystery fiction owe a debt of gratitude to the BBC of the series. Like a similarly themed Television series from the 1970s, it succeeds in bringing to life forgotten detectives and clever mysteries. The acting and production values are top notch, as you would expect with a recent BBC radio 4 series. The stories are (with one exception) true to their era with few embellishments. We get a great variety of detectives, including a fat gourmet detective in Eugene Valmont, a blind detective in Carrados, and a Columbo-esque gardener in Paul Beck, as well as three different lady sleuths, most notably Lady Violet Strange and Loveday Brooke.
On the negative side, the Series episode “Seven, Seven, Seven” added an adult plot element that wasn’t in the original story, was gratuitous, and untrue to a story of that era. In addition, Lestrade is written as having a huge chip on his shoulder about the prominence and fame of Sherlock Holmes. It seems like this series could have been made without making Lestrade into a man who is so bitter against Holmes and his portrayal in the Holmes story that he has to find every way he can to undercut Holmes.
Despite these flaws, this is a solid collection and will introduce fans to many interesting and long-forgotten detectives.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0
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