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When I got a request to read and review Doyle After Death by John Shirley, I jumped at the opportunity without knowing anything about the book because it was clear that the story was about Arthur Conan Doyle and possibly his beloved character, Sherlock Holmes. I really really love the writings of A.C. Doyle and especially since I learned several years ago that later in his life he also dabbed into the occult, he grew by leaps and bounds in my heart.
So first of all my expectations of the book. With a title like Doyle After Death, it meant that the book is all about Doyle after his passing away. So I made all sorts of ideas and assumptions in my head – probably Doyle has come back as a ghost either haunting someone or helping some contemporary PI solve a case or two. Or maybe someone found long after Doyle’s death some hidden manuscript with another one of his works, like in the book White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child which I recently reviewed also about Doyle.
Well, once I’ve read the book, let’s just say that none of my assumptions were true. And the book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
The book starts out with a bang:
“Before I ever met Doyle or Brummigen or the Lamplighter…I died.”
These are the opening words said by the main character, Nicholas Fogg, a rather boring and not so quite accomplished PI during his lifetime. After his death he wakes up on the shore next to a purple colored sea with waves hitting the sandy beach just like any other sea would do.
Everything is normal (except for the red-blue color of the sea), yet Fogg knows for sure that he is dead and he is waiting for any sign of the afterlife – the typical one that we learn about as living human beings. You know, the trumpets, an angel or two, the judges with long white robes giving you the choice to rewind your whole life and see all your mistakes…
But all Fogg sees is a pretty young gal coming to welcome him, a girl by the name of Fiona. And with Fiona’s welcome starts Fogg’s journey in the afterlife, a world as different from anything he was expecting from an afterlife as it could be.
Before I continue with the review, I have to add that I am a big fan of spiritual/esoteric topics including astral projection, lucid dreaming, and reincarnation. I have read countless books especially on astral projection/out of body experiences, which are basically a series of techniques by which we can temporarily leave the body and explore the astral world.
So why is this pertinent to the book? Well, Garden Rest, the place in the afterworld where Fogg landed was very similar to the astral plane where out of body explorers such as Robert Monroe, William Buhlman and Robert Bruce, just to name a few, have been “hanging out”so to speak while AP’ing, and writing about these experiences throughout the years in their books.
For example, in the astral plane, you can create things simply by thinking about them. Many out of body explorers have even seen buildings and constructions that are as real looking as the ones seen in this physical world. It is said that such constructs are created from our collective unconscious mind by thinking about them or creating them in our dreams while we are lucid dreaming.
As Fogg is going around the place, he sees houses, gardens, flowers and many things that are almost – not quite, but almost – the same with what he’d find here in the real world. And when he asks how it’s possible that these constructs are in the afterworld, he is told that people can here formulate pretty much anything if they put their minds to it. Just like in the astral plane of out of body explorers.
There are also different levels of the astral plane with lower vs higher vibrations. Those living in the lower vibrational planes don’t have access to the higher ones until they’re ready to do so. Fogg will see examples of this throughout the book more than once as well.
So being already familiar with this type of spiritual projection, I felt right away comfortable with the afterworld that Fogg was exploring.
In Garden Rest Fogg meets Arthur Conan Doyle and he can’t believe his eyes, it’s indeed him, the main hero in his former life – the very reason he became a (rather unaccomplished) PI. Right away he wants to become Doyle’s Watson, as it were, and it doesn’t take long for Doyle to give him various detective tasks, which only means that indeed now Fogg will be working with Conan Doyle to solve a series of crimes happening around Garden Rest.
Because indeed, crimes abound in the afterworld, just as they do in the real world. People can – sort of – die, they feel pain and criminal mind does exist there as well. Sadly not everyone goes up to heaven as a purified soul, devoid of all sins.
When it comes to the actual plot, it is not a very complex story. There is no major drama and there is no edge of your seat type of narrative. Basically, Doyle and Fogg have to find someone who kills people in the afterworld (if something like that is even possible) and steals their life energy. I really enjoyed Doyle’s typical deductive mind that we are so used to see in the Sherlock Holmes books where he goes through clue after clue until he finds the culprit in a logical and reasonable fashion.
John Shirley has made Arthur Conan Doyle proud, he really kept the essence of the Sherlock Holmes character and brought to life a persona that so many of us, mystery lovers, enjoy reading about.
Life in Garden Rest is quite busy and interesting. People live there, sleep there (although sleep in the afterlife is more like remembering episodes of one’s former life), and eat there. Eating is not quite eating though, this happens in the form of getting nourishment from the sun, in all sorts of fun food flavors. Oh and they have sex as well – with less jealousy, but more passion, apparently. There is even a bit of romance in the book, which makes it such a charming read.
All in all, if you want to read a somewhat different detective novel with a world that is almost – but not quite – the same with our own world, with fun and well fleshed out characters like Doyle, Fiona, the major and Fogg, you won’t regret picking up this book.
I just really hope that the author decides to turn this book into a multiple part mystery series with various crimes solved by the fun duo, Doyle/Fogg. Here’s hoping.
About the author
John Shirley is the author of numerous books and many, many short stories. His novels include Bleak History, Crawlers, Demons, In Darkness Waiting, and seminal cyberpunk works City Come A-Walkin’, and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies, Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-owned, and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. He also writes for the screen (The Crow) and television. As a musician, Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others.