Friday, July 31, 2009

"The Baker Street Letters"

Michael Robertson works for a large company with branches in the United States and England.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Baker Street Letters, his first novel, and reported the following:
If you start with page 69 of The Baker Street Letters, you will probably surmise that the protagonist is British and relatively upscale, and that at the moment he is in a decidedly downscale hotel in the United States, searching for his missing brother.

You would need to read the previous pages to know that both brothers are in the United States because of a letter that an eight-year-old girl in Los Angeles wrote to Sherlock Holmes some twenty years earlier.

For a very long time, the Royal Mail has delivered such letters—most of them written as jokes, but others quite sincere—to a British building society that happens to occupy the entire 200 block of Baker Street in London.

Reggie (the protagonist) has just recently located his law practice in that building. He got a great deal on the lease—but unfortunately he did not notice the tiny clause that makes him now responsible for mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

The lease requires that the occupant respond to those posts with a carefully worded form letter—and absolutely nothing beyond that—and Reggie would love for it to be that simple. But it turns out not to be, and by page 69, there has been a murder in Reggie’s law office, and Reggie’s brother—the primary suspect—has taken off to Los Angeles.

Reggie is obliged to follow. By the end of the novel he will have dealt with murders on two continents, and with issues that have been simmering for some time between himself, his brother, and a woman they have both loved. But that won’t stop the letters from arriving at Baker Street, and there will be more of those for Reggie to deal with in the future.

From page 69:

“You want a room, I got one available on the third floor. Clean as a baby’s bottom.”

“No doubt. But what about the room where my brother stayed?”

“I don’t know if my staff has gotten to it yet,” said the clerk.

This was sarcasm. Reggie recognized the tone from weekend holidays in Paris.

“May I see it?”

“You can rent it.”

“Of course,” said Reggie. He paid the full day’s rent with his American money and climbed the stairs, carrying his bag with him.

In Reggie’s experience, American hotel rooms typically smelled too much of bleached linen and antiseptic cleaners. Unfortunately, the rooms of this hotel did not have that fault; the corridor smelled instead of mildew and substances best left unidentified.

Reggie found Nigel’s room. For reasons he did not understand, he knocked first. There was no response. Of course there wasn’t. He opened the door.

He realized now he had half expected that Nigel would still be there, despite the clerk’s assurances that the occupant had checked out.

But there was no one.

The bed, small by American standards, apparently had not been slept in. There was nothing lying about on the faded carpeting to prove Nigel had been there, though Reggie supposed the absence of empty beer cans and whiskey bottles might in itself indicate that the most recent tenant had not been of the usual clientele.
Read an excerpt from The Baker Street Letters, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue