The Three Locks (2021) by Bonnie MacBird

London is being swamped by a heatwave, and Holmes is spiralling without a case to sink his teeth into until three comes along at the same time.

Watson has inherited a mysterious puzzle box from his mother, but without a key, it seems that finding the secret of its contents is impossible.

In the West End, a famous Italian escape artist nearly dies during a show when his equipment is sabotaged.

In Cambridge, the daughter of a prestigious academic has disappeared – the only trace being her childhood doll found floating in the Jesus Lock on the River Cam.

With three cases to deal with, has even Sherlock Holmes over-stretched himself?

I recently reviewed The Devil’s Due, the third Holmes story from Bonnie MacBird and was looking forward to taking a look at the next to see how the story continued, so I was a little surprised to find this was a prequel, set before the other three books. I didn’t notice any threads from that book being set up here, but I do read a lot of crime fiction and don’t remember every detail. There are certainly threads set up here for later stories.

Oh, quick warning, don’t read the blurb. I read it when I was about a third of the way through, and I need to add the usual grump for publishers – think about what you put in the blurb. Because even though I’d read a third of the book, two – yes, two! – major events that hadn’t happened yet were spoiled. Thanks for that.

The Cambridge story is the major mystery going through the story, and it’s by far the most successful thread. The story revolves around several swains of the daughter of the don, what games she was playing and who decided that they had had enough of her. It reads like more of a whodunit mystery than a typical Holmes tale – for example, Holmes seems to take the whole book to work out who the villain of the piece is, unlike his usual trick of basically know what is going on from moment one and then just being annoyingly quiet about the whole thing.

In fact Holmes’ inability to work things out from the beginning leads to at least two deaths, which didn’t feel like Holmes to me. Yes, it gives the tale a lot more oomph than Doyle would have done, bt it might annoy the purists.

The escapologist story is fine, but at the end of the day seemed more like the set-up for things to come, and the Watson story, also foreshadowing things to come, adds some back-story to Watson that you wouldn’t have found in a Doyle tale.

Having said all that, this is a lot closer to what you might expect from a Holmes tale than other modern recreations of classic sleuths – the writer, as with the previous book, avoids the temptation of littering the book with Holmes clichés, such as Irene Adler or the Giant Rat of Sumatra, and it would be unduly harsh to criticize including more emotional background for the sleuths that Doyle ever did.

All in all, this is a good read, with a strong primary plot, even if I found the seconday plots less satisfying.


  1. I don’t know, you’ve made a decent try, but I’m still not convinced that I ought to go back on my pledge to never read a Holmes pastiche again.


      • Oh, yes. I think everyone read THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION when it came out. If it wasn’t the first ever Holmes novel not written by Doyle, it was close to it. It didn’t hurt that it was a good detective story too. But once the restrictions were lifted for good, and everybody thought they were as good a writer as Doyle, the quality of their efforts took a deep deep nosedive. But when they started teaming Holmes up with every historical figure under the sun, even fictional ones, combined with poor writing, that’s when I said so long for once and all.


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