William F. Deeck

WILLIAM RUSHTON – W. G. Grace’s Last Case, or the War of the Worlds, Part Two. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1984; paperback, 1985. No US edition.

   [England in the 1890s], the War of the Worlds is at an end, with the earth and its microbes victorious. Castor Vilebastard (pronounced “Villibart” according to Vilebastard, but we know better), about to bowl to W. G. Grace, the world’s foremost cricketer, collapses on the pitch at Lord’s, an Apache arrow in his back.

   This novel is what may be called a reverse roman à clef — that is, there are fictitious people going about under real names. There are also real people using their real names.

   Some of the more active real people — there are scores of them — are Grace, Dr John Watson, Inspector Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Oscar Wilde, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Professor Moriarty. The fictitious people, among others, are Dr Henry Jekyll, along with his compatriot, Mr Hyde, and A. J. Raffles. Lord Greystoke makes a brief appearance.

   Sherlockians will, of course, be fascinated by this new adventure of Dr Watson’s although they may be outraged when they note the suggestion that he has it off with Queen Victoria. They may also be puzzled by Watson’s introducing himself to Grace as “John D. Watson”, as if there weren’t enough problems with the good doctor’s name. To add to the confusion, Watson claims he saw Moriarty vanish over the Reichenbach Falls. And, unfortunately, Watson is portrayed as more than a bit of a nitwit, which he never was.

   Still, the author makes up for these strange statements by telling us, albeit too briefly, how Holmes, with Watson’s inadvertent aid, was responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Martians.

   To enjoy this novel, no reader need be aware of what a silly mid-on or even a silly mid-off does on the cricket field. What is essential to bring to it is an appreciation of delightful farce, verbal slapstick, and good bad puns as Grace, Watson, and allies pursue Pollux Vilebastard, twin brother of Castor and an even bigger villain than Moriarty, to find out just what in (and out of) the world he is up to.

   The Times Literary Supplement called this “a comic tour de force”. A typical English understatement, I’d opine.

— Reprinted from CADS 23, ca. 1994. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Biographical Note:   From his Wikipedia page: “William George Rushton (18 August 1937 – 11 December 1996) was an English cartoonist, satirist, comedian, actor and performer who co-founded the satirical magazine Private Eye.”