REVIEWED BY LEE AITKEN
Several years after Emile Zola made the racially charged trial of Lt. Alfred Dreyfus a cause célèbre in France, Sherlock Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, came to the aid of a young Anglo-Indian named George Edjali. The son of a thoroughly Anglicized vicar in Staffordshire, England, Edjali was a modest solicitor convicted of mutilating livestock. This absurd miscarriage of justice provoked Conan Doyle to bend his rule against loosing Holmes's investigative skills on real-life cases. The author won a pardon for Edjali and shamed Britain into creating a court of appeals, yet the incident soon faded into obscurity. Now Barnes—providing further evidence of his remarkable versatility—has fleshed out this story into a richly imagined fiction that follows Conan Doyle and Edjali, in alternating chapters, from childhood to old age. The older man, Conan Doyle, comes alive as an adventurer with a fine mind. Raised in straitened circumstances, he ends up trapped by a chivalric sense of duty between a beloved mistress and his ailing wife—seeking physical challenges and embracing the era's vogueish “spiritism.” In contrast, Edjali is bookish and shy and perplexed by the venomous pranks that plague his mixed-race family. The case that brings them together, briefly, in midlife unfolds with the measured suspense of an Edwardian mystery. The result is a delightful read.