Book Review | Elementary: The Ghost Line (by Adam Christopher)

elementary the ghost line adam christopher book review blood and ink season 1 lucy liu johnny lee miller sherlock holmes

I really love Elementary. So, when I found out that there was an Elementary tie-in novel, I bought it pretty much straight away. I think maybe there was about 5 minutes between reading about it on reddit (“Cover for second Elementary tie in novel… wait… that means there’s a first…”) and then opening up my amazon account and placing an order.

Cut to several weeks later, and I’ve finally managed to start reading The Ghost Line, by Adam Christopher. I finished it yesterday, in fact, and it’s a very, very good book. Here’s the synopsis:

A summons to a bullet-riddled body in a Hell’s Kitchen apartment marks the start of a new case for consulting detectives Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson. The victim is a subway train driver with a hidden stash of money and a strange Colombian connection, but why would someone kill him and leave a fortune behind?

The search for the truth will lead the sleuths deep into the hidden underground tunnels beneath New York City, where answers — and more bodies — may well await them…

It is, perhaps, a bit of an odd sounding idea – a tie-in novel based on a TV show that is based on a character who originally comes from a series of novels. I did at first wonder if maybe this would be structured as though it were a Conan Doyle novel – first person from Watson’s perspective – but it is in fact, quite rightly, Elementary to a tee.

The Ghost Line genuinely feels like an episode of Elementary we never saw; it follows all the structural cues of the episodes, with the pre-titles murder, an unceremonious wake up from Sherlock, and a simple homicide that leads to a much larger plot. The portrayals of all the characters are dead on (Gregson, Bell, and Alfredo all appear), but I feel the need to single out Sherlock and Joan, because the writing here absolutely matches the performance of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. You can genuinely hear them saying the dialogue throughout – I would go as far as to say that of all the tie-in fiction I’ve read (which is a not inconsiderable amount, with Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Primeval amongst them) that Adam Christopher captured the characters he was writing better than anyone else. Or I got a very strange case of Elementary specific tinnitus while I was reading the book.

Something I particularly enjoyed was a focus on Watson’s, rather than Holmes’, deductions. Often it’s difficult to get Sherlock’s deductions right (even Conan Doyle had trouble!) and although we do see a few of those here, much of the deductions come from Watson – something I really enjoyed, because it fits in with Elementary’s general theme of Watson learning to become a consulting detective, and indeed becoming one. It’s great stuff.

There’s plenty of references to the Conan Doyle novels throughout – there’s Sherlock shooting, rather than stabbing, a pig to conduct an experiment, as well as a reappearance of the Blue Carbuncle itself. It also builds on some things that have already been established in Elementary, like Sherlock’s interest in the tunnels beneath London, and the fact that Sherlock has already been involved in the recovery of the Blue Carbuncle before. It is very clear, throughout, that Adam Christopher really loves Elementary.

(Rather fantastically, there’s also references to Batman, and to Doctor Who. I shan’t point them out, because part of the fun was spotting them, but I will say that I was genuinely pretty surprised by one of the most obscure Doctor Who references I’ve ever seen; Sherlock appears to have worked for a particular organisation who were part of the Virgin New Adventures! [And also Time Flight, I’ve since learned] That’s so obscure I was tempted to write it off as me picking up on things that weren’t there, but Adam Christopher is a fan, so…)

All in all, then, this is a fantastic book. There’s very strong prose throughout, an inventive plot, wonderfully drawn characters, and I learned quite a lot about the tunnels beneath New York.

I’d definitely recommend this for fans of Elementary, and I’m really looking forward to the next novel, Blood and Ink.

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