This is a review of the first two books in an ongoing series by author Harry DeMaio, The Open and Shut Case and The Case of the Spotted Band. To be perfectly honest, when I received these novels, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The extent of my knowledge was that this series features anthropomorphic animals and is inspired by Sherlock Holmes.
Are they for children? I wondered. Can I, in any way, take them seriously? What is the purpose of doing this? Then I opened the first one and started reading.
No, these books are not children’s literature, they are serious without being self-important, and their purpose is, at least as I see it, to create a whole new world that is somehow deliciously reminiscent of the Holmes canon we know and love.
DeMaio’s attention to detail throughout the books is staggering. Understanding the challenge of jumping into a world in which Sherlock Holmes, professor Moriarty, and their cohorts are represented by animals, he includes in each book a character guide and a short explanation of how his post-apocalyptic animal society works.
The only book I can think of that is in any way comparable is the classic Watership Down by Richard Adams. Like DeMaio, Adams used animals to represent and illuminate aspects of human society. To my eye, the Octavius Bear books have the same amount of potential to become classics in the world of Sherlock Holmes-inspired fiction.
DeMaio is a skilled and engaging storyteller and crafter of characters and mystery narrative. Those who enjoy traditional Holmesian works will enjoy his books. It’s not a matter of trying to get past a concept to find the story; he manages to make his animals and their world an intrinsic part of his unique Sherlockian vision.
Somehow, through Octavius Bear and his associates, Harry DeMaio has managed to create something that is entirely new and entirely familiar. His world is a very enjoyable place to lose yourself.
The books reviewed above were provided for consideration by the publisher. All opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.