THE THREE LOCKS
By Bonnie MacBird
London: Collins Crime Club, 2021. $26.99
The Three Locks is Bonnie MacBird’s fourth novel continuing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s largely successful, with some twisty mysteries and some colorful settings and clever details.
As the book opens, London is suffering from a terrible heat wave, but crime doesn’t take time off due to the weather. MacBird’s plot in The Three Locks is constructed of three separate story lines connected thematically but involving different cases and crimes. One focuses on Watson’s backstory, another centers on the twisted personal life of an illusionist and his wife, and a third is based on the dysfunctional family of a Cambridge don.
The best of the narratives is the tale of the illusionist, who specializes in innovative escapology, driven by the brilliant inventions of his wife. It’s clever and exciting, and leaves the reader wondering who will be the victim, who will be the perpetrator, and how the incredible illusion of survival after being boiled in a copper cauldron works. It’s atmospheric, with fascinating characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story line.
The plot where Watson receives a little box that he cannot open is extremely intriguing, and the scene with a sinister locksmith who asks for eyebrow-raising prices in exchange for his skills is a clever tie-in to one of Holmes’s most famous mysteries. This is by far the best scene of the book, as not only does it succeed as worldbuilding and utilize a callback to brilliant effect, but it also highlights the friendship between the two men, showing the level of moral support that Holmes is willing to provide Watson without a trace of sappiness. The underplayed moment is an example of fantastic writing.
The ending of that particular story, when the contents of Watson’s box are revealed, leaves readers wanting more, paving the way for MacBird’s next novel. Unfortunately, the unresolved questions make The Three Locks less of an emotionally self-contained narrative than it could have been.
The third story line involves a damaged family, a young woman with multiple fiancés and unknown motives, and tensions that lead to a mysterious death. The most interesting plot point—a menacing institution that women can be thrown into for no reason other than being out at night unaccompanied—deserves to be the center of its own book.
A welcome supplement to the book is the annotations that illustrate the historical research and attention to detail that MacBird put into the story, found on her website, macbird.com/the-three-locks/notes/. As of this writing, the annotations are incomplete, with additional chapters to be added in the future.
The Three Locks is definitely worth a look for fans of continuations of the Holmes mythos, and I’m eager to see where MacBird will take the legendary pair in future books.