Barrie Roberts, Author . Carroll & Graf $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1016-4

After successfully melding the brilliant thinker and the man of action in such earlier works as Sherlock Holmes and the Man from Hell and Sherlock Holmes and the Harvest of Death, British author Roberts fails to give the Great Detective a worthy challenge in his sixth Holmes pastiche. Holmes and Watson act and speak in character, but do so in a plot that seems to borrow heavily from Doyle's The Sign of Four: rumors of a great plundered treasure from a faraway land, a coded message to be deciphered, a criminal seemingly able to scale sheer surfaces unaided while leaving strange tracks, and narrow escapes from poison and flying weapons. The puzzle begins when Inspector Lestrade delivers a gruesome package containing the shrunken head of a missing banker, Algernon Crosby. Crosby had recently returned from a transatlantic yacht trip to America, where he recruited a new member of his crew who has also disappeared. When the murderer starts stalking Crosby's widow and two young sons at their secluded country home, Watson rushes to the scene to organize a plan of defense. While Doyle himself rarely crafted his classic tales as whodunits, the choice to have the killer's identity, and the general contours of his motive, made obvious halfway through the story lessens the suspense. The not particularly inspired actions taken to trap the villain afford Holmes little opportunity to display his intellectual gifts. Roberts captures the flavor of the originals but little of their drama. (May 17)

Reviewed on: 04/15/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
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