Picks and Pans Review: The List of 7

updated 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Mark Frost

The appeal, on creamy vellum, is impossible to resist. It implores Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, physician and debunker of spiritualist swindles, to aid an innocent whose "life hangs in the balance." The next night Doyle finds himself at a mysterious séance—and, through the derring-do of a stranger, barely escapes alive.

And so the game is afoot in Mark Frost's debut novel, a ripping Holmesian thriller that barrels through Victorian England with the narrative drive of a runaway train. In it Doyle and his enigmatic ally, Jack Sparks—is he a special agent to the Queen or a dangerous lunatic on the lam?—race to foil a literally devilish conspiracy that threatens the very future of the monarchy. Though Holmes fanciers will enjoy spotting the clues suggesting Sparks might be the model for their man, the novel stakes its claim as a spooky page-turner in its own right.

While maintaining period detail and making use of historical figures, Frost, who cocreated TV's Twin Peaks, infuses his story with a modern sensibility, his central theme being the tension between reason and faith. Ultimately the horror—and the power—of the novel issues not from beyond the grave, but from the darker recesses of the heart. (Morrow, $20)

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