The action moves from England to northern France in Robert Ryan’s Dead Man’s Land. It’s 1918, and Dr. John H. Watson—following an emotional split from Sherlock Holmes—has been commissioned as a
major with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Though now in his mid-60s, he’s been dispatched to the deadly front lines as “an expert in the new techniques of blood transfusion.” In the face of persistent shellings and unrelenting carnage, Watson feels satisfaction in helping the war effort. Yet it’s his skills as a sleuth as much as a surgeon that come in handy here.
After a British soldier perishes from a bizarre ailment that turns his skin blue and his hands into claws, Watson’s transfusion techniques fall under suspicion. He’s convinced, though, that another explanation exists. So when a similar death does occur, Watson starts digging into the victims’ history, looking for connections between them. He’s aided in this effort by a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross, the resourceful Georgina Gregson, whose past clashes with the law may make her an unreliable ally. As the violence of war swirls about their heads, and snipers keep a lethal vigil in the bleak no-man’s-land between opposing armies, Watson pursues a murderer with old grudges and no compunction against adding Holmes’ onetime chronicler to the count of battlefront casualties.
Author Ryan’s depiction of combat-zone privations and the peculiar society of the trenches radiates with authenticity, and his portrayal of Dr. Watson is sufficiently faithful to have won Dead Man’s Land the authorization of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate. I understand a sequel is already in the pipeline. Perhaps by then, this UK release will have found a U.S. publisher. Fortunately, it’s easily available now from online sources.
J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine.