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The Crown vs. Dr. Watson

Series: Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #4
Translated Into: A coroa contra o Dr. Watson (Portuguese)
La corona contra el doctor Watson (Spanish)
Le crime du Docteur Watson (French)
Dr. Watson unter Anklage (German)
Watson sotto accusa (Italian)
Author: Lientz, Gerald
Illustrators: Horne, Daniel R. (cover)
Versandi, Bob (interior)
Release Date: 1988
Length:488 sections plus prologue
User Summary: A dishonest businessman is found murdered. The evidence seems to point towards Sherlock Holmes' companion, Dr. Watson. Can you prove Watson's innocence and bring the real culprit to justice?
Guillermo's Thoughts: (review based on the Spanish translation)

This book is a combination of several things that have been done before in the series with a few innovative elements. It's my least favourite book in the series, though that doesn't mean it's a bad book. My gripes with it are related to different aspects of design, so I'll analyze each of these aspects separately.

The book deserves credit for a plot with involves the player's emotions by implicating Watson in a crime. The first part of the adventure is one of high tension, since the player must uncover enough evidence to prove Watson's innocence. If upon reaching a certain point this is not done, the player must go back to the beginning and start again. Once Watson's innocence is proven, the player must uncover who the culprit is, and this involves doing many things that have already been done in the series: talking to suspects, solving the occasional secret code, going though files, and searching suspects' houses. The facts that this is the third murder mystery in a row written by the same author and that the player pretty much does the same things as in Murder in the Diogenes Club and Death at Appledore Towers mean that the book feels old rather quickly. There is an action sequence at the end where the player has to catch the culprit (similar to the one in the first book), and it's not even that interesting, though it's possible to die while chasing the criminal.

Difficulty is just about average: the majority of difficulty numbers for skill checks are in the 6-8 range on two dice. However, there is often more than one way to uncover a critical clue, so it's most likely the player won't have to go through the book again and again too many times, trying to score high on one roll in order to solve the mystery. The choices are pretty obvious most of the time, and not nearly as interesting as in Death at Appledore Towers. However, I did like the fact that often uncovering a certain clue requires having obtained another clue first. In general, the book is reasonably challenging but not frustrating. I don't think the crucial clues are as clear in this book as in most others in this series, so I was more confused near the end than I should have been; this is one of the design flaws that prevented me from enjoying this book much.

Characterization itself is one of the major flaws of the book: the story takes place in 1894, during a period where Sherlock Holmes is thought to be dead. The truth is he wasn't dead, but he faked his own death in order to hide from henchmen employed by his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (and yes, it's possible to discover this during gameplay, though whether you do it or not is irrelevant to the conclusion of the adventure). Holmes' absence is seriously felt during most of the adventure, and his brother Mycroft does not fit his shoes well. Since Watson himself is a suspect, he is presented as distant and not very likable, and once his innocence is proven, he disappears from the picture. The other characters in the story aren't really that interesting, some of them being notoriously undeveloped, and in the case of the others, not enough depth is provided in order to differentiate between them. Since most of the strengths of a book like this lie in character development, the fact that it's not done well here means the book leaves something to be desired. The writing itself is drier and duller than in most other books by this author, and this definitely lead to my disillusionment with it.

There is one aspect that somehow saves this book from complete mediocrity: the way player character agency is handled. In the previous entries of the series, the player character is mostly an observer of events, and nothing he does changes the plot dramatically. This book begins a trend that can also be seen in the next two Gerald Lientz books: certain subplots are only triggered depending on the player character's previous actions. In this book, the player's decisions may lead the murderer to commit a second crime, which can be investigated or even stopped by the player character (if he happens to be in the right place at the right time). This greatly adds to the realism and complexity of the book.

Overall, the book is slightly subpar for the series, but it still contains an interesting idea or two and might be worth reading. Its flaws are very real, but they aren't representative of the series as a whole. Considering the book has fewer sections and larger print than the author's previous efforts, one is left wondering if the adventure couldn't have been fleshed out with better writing and more interesting characters.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary and to Guy Fullerton for the alternate cover scan.
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