The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

3.5 out of 5 stars

   The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is a tremendous lot of fun to read; it kept me turning pages until I fell asleep late at night. This mystery follows author Arthur Conan Doyle during a turbulent period of his life, shortly after he has killed off his beloved character Sherlock Holmes. Plagued by public fury at his literary decision, Conan Doyle is invited to join the newly created Society for Psychical Research at their first meeting at the country estate of Thraxton Hall. Conan Doyle jumps at the opportunity to flee London for a week, and accompanied by his friend and fellow writer, Oscar Wilde, he takes a train to the mysterious manor.   Conan Doyle has been invited to the manor by a beautiful and enigmatic young medium, Hope Thraxton. Hope has recently dreamed of her own murder, and has invited Conan Doyle in order that he, with his famous deductive reasoning, might discover her killer before tragedy strikes.
When Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde arrive at Thraxton Hall, they meet the other members of the new society, from Russian psychics, to masked counts, to skeptical scientists. Their new companions, however, are not all they appear, and at least one of them has a deadly secret.  This, in short, is the plot of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, the first in a planned series following the fictional exploits of Arthur Conan Doyle.  In this mystery novel, author Vaughn Entwistle has succeeded brilliantly in many ways, but fallen short in others.
To begin with, the good: as mentioned previously, The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is a pure pleasure to read. It’s the kind of book in which you say to yourself, over and over, “just one more page.”  It is well plotted and consistently paced; there is never a lag in the action, nor an event that seems unnecessary. There are several reveals at the end of the novel, which, although surprises, are believable, and therefore satisfying.
Furthermore, it is a joy to read Entwistle’s depiction of the friendship between Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. The two men, although diametric opposites in many ways, genuinely respect and like each other, and their repartee and acceptance of each other is well written.  Finally, the descriptions of the soupy fog of London, the stormy English countryside, and the haunted, crumbling manor, add a wonderfully eerie gothic feel to the mystery.
On to what didn’t work in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall.  Although Entwistle includes tidbits from history in the novel, his descriptions of the era remain superficial. Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde think and speak like men from 2014, not from those born in the 19th century.  Entwistle has made a slight effort to antiquate the language in his novel by having the characters speak more formally than we do today, and by eliminating slang, but his writing fails to capture the style of speech used in the actual novels of Arthur Conan Doyle. This diminishes the sense of authenticity in the book. In the same vein, I felt that Entwistle failed to capture the personalities of Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde.  Conan Doyle is serious, reserved, and tries to do the right thing. However, to this reader, he seems to follow the morals of a later, and more relaxed generation.  Oscar Wilde’s characterization is even less convincing. The Wilde that Entwistle creates is loveable, a jokester who enjoys being the center of attention and is unabashedly vain. But Entwistle’s portrayal of Wilde diminishes the genius of the man himself. In Entwistle’s hands, the real Oscar Wilde’s renowned razor-sharp wit becomes only “jolly good fun.” In the novel, Oscar Wilde is simply a flamboyant show-off, rather than a passionate aesthete.  So the strange problem that develops as a result of this misportrayal in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is this: on the one hand, much of what makes the novel special is that the main characters are Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, I think that the actual Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde would not recognize themselves in the characters that Entwistle has created.
Given this issue, I am of a divided mind in my final analysis of the novel. On the one hand, I enjoyed it immensely. On the other, I was disappointed in the level of authenticity that Entwistle was able to create with his characters and language. As a result, I would recommend this novel to people who love Sherlock Holmes, especially those who have enjoyed movie and television adaptations of the famous detective. On the other hand, for those who are purists, or who are primarily fans of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, I believe that this novel would be a disappointment.
   The Revenant of Thraxton Hall made me consider the difficulties in writing authentic portrayals of different eras. It also made me want to read more about the real Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle. In this way, I count The Revenant of Thraxton Hall an unmitigated success, because it has made me more interested in a time and a place other than my own.   I received an advance review copy of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall from the publisher through NetGalley.

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