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The Black River Emerald

Series: Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #2
Translated Into: L'émeraude de la Rivière noire (French)
La esmeralda del río Negro (Spanish)
A esmeralda do Rio Negro (Portuguese)
Der Smaragd vom Schwarzen Fluß (German)
Lo smeraldo del fiume nero (Italian)
Author: Ryan, Peter
Illustrator: Horne, Daniel R.
Release Date: 1987
Length:273 sections plus prologue
User Summary: In this book you play David Rogers, a student at a British public school. A valuable South American jewel has been stolen, and there are six suspects, but you’re one of them! Things are further complicated by the appearance of the rightful owners of the jewel, a group of Amazonian aborigines who will stop at nothing to recover it.
Guillermo's Thoughts: In terms of sections, this is the "shortest" book in the series, having also larger print than usual, and being very heavily illustrated. This can be deceiving for people who believe there is a strong correlation between section count and complexity of the adventure – the book feels as complex and interesting as any other entry in this series. It's amazing that the writer managed to include so many interesting situations and subplots in the book without resorting to 500-odd sections like most other books in this series do.

As much as I liked the first book, I found this to be much better. The writing is of above average quality, even for this series, being lively and entertaining. One particular exchange in section 163 between the player character and the school's headmaster, for example, is amusing and ironic enough to be included in an anthology. Things are aided further by the fact that, unlike in Gerald Lientz's books where your character is a private investigator, in this book you get to play a character more reminiscent of the typical Choose Your Own Adventure hero: an American schoolboy who, because of his age, is often not taken seriously and whose freedom of movement is constrained by adult authority. This helps to convey a sense of despair and helplessness that is usually very effective for motivating the player to solve the mystery and clear his name. Holmes and Watson's participation in this adventure is minimal, which is rather unusual for this series, but they are nonetheless very well portrayed by the author, and the adventure is entertaining enough that their absence isn't felt most of the time. The adventure is also more action-packed than is usual for this series: fist-fights, chases, following and spying on subjects are frequent, and often in the adventure the player character risks both life and limb. There are no failure or death endings, though.

The amount of detail that went into the plot and characters is amazing. There are only five other suspects, and all of them have personal motivations for committing the crime. Depending on which of the suspects you choose to watch more closely, it's possible to become entangled in one of several subplots, from being chased by an organized crime leader to uncovering a secret love dispute between two of the main characters. This diversity of subplots is what makes the adventure so rich and interesting – often, finding critical clues requires being at the correct place at the right time, and following some false leads may prevent you from doing that. At other times, it's possible to uncover evidence to help you eliminate one of the suspects from your list, but doing this is not easy, since it may require making correct choices and succeeding in skill checks several times in a row. This is really my only "gripe" with the book – uncovering clues requires you to be successful at particularly tough die rolls, and bad luck can mean you get to miss important evidence. I put gripe between quotation marks because there is a positive side to this: the book seems designed to keep you guessing. It's not too much of a problem with me, but you might not like it if you don't like being confused.

Even taking the above into account, finding the solution to the mystery is not that hard, since the crucial clues to unmask the real culprit don't require too many difficult die rolls. However, even if you solve the mystery correctly, the book allows you at one point to go back to the beginning in order to gather clues about the other suspects and uncover the many mysteries that surround their lives. This might be necessary if you want to solve all the subplots by yourself, but even if you don't, everything should become clear after reading Holmes' thorough explanation at the end.

Overall, this is an excellent gamebook which I would recommend to everyone, and especially to newcomers to the series. It's a shame this is Peter Ryan's only gamebook, because more books like this would have helped the genre earn more respect.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary and B. Banzai for the Berkley variant cover scan.
Users Who Own This Item: Ardennes, bigcobra, Crazyscotsman, Cyan, damieng, dArtagnan, dave2002a, Dronak, Ed, exaquint (#2), firefoxpdm, Guillermo, Gurvo, katzcollection, kinderstef, knginatl, le maudit, Malthus Dire, mir1812, mlvoss, nelsondesign, nerelax, Pseudo_Intellectual, Radjabov, Ryuran333, sireeyore, Thanos6, truce57, twar, Twoflower, Yalius, Zolika
Users Who Want This Item: Braldt, EthanPhoenix, Fullerton, juski
Users with Extra Copies: dave2002a

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Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries
from Dragon #124, back cover