This could have worked quite well if the author had taken the time to think through what he wanted the novel to be. It has other serious flaws but in the main one is confused as to whether this is a comic novel, a pastiche or a complex murder mystery.
As a comic novel it fails since the comedy is sporadic and reliant for effect on Carry On style ‘double entendre’ and cheap puns. It is draining to read since – for one thing – the style of the comedy is far too modern and sits uneasily in a late Victorian setting. Sometimes it hits the nail but most of the time it is just not funny or severely laboured. There is a section where Lestrade meets Oscar Wilde which is particularly painful to read, brief though it is, as it seems it was only included for its comic value.
The basic premise is that Inspector Lestrade (of the Sherlock Holmes tales) is in fact a real Inspector and exists in the real world alongside Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson are reduced to one-dimensional buffoonish stereotypes, while the rest of the cast struggle to get beyond two dimensions.
Lestrade is tasked with investigating a series of peculiar murders which are based around Hoffman’s cautionary verses of Struwellpeter, or Shock Headed Peter.
Lestrade – for no good reason – comes into contact with various famous Victorians, such as Tennyson, Swinburne, The Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor (whose presumed homosexuality, like that of Oscar Wilde, is presented to us for no other reason than the author knows all about it and presumes he is telling us things we never knew… Oh, and it gives him the excuse to use the derogatory term for gay men ‘cottage loaf’ several times) and various others.
The murders themselves are quite preposterous and would be impossible to put into practice in real terms. Had the author taken some time to construct more credible scenarios it might have saved this novel from ruin.
It’s not that difficult to work out who the murderer is either, but I’ll leave that for you to determine.