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The Dynamiters

Series: Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #5
Translated Into: La conspiration des dynamiteurs (French)
I dinamitardi (Italian)
Los dinamiteros (Spanish)
Explosion in der U-Bahn (German)
Author: Creighton, Milt
Illustrators: Horne, Daniel R. (cover)
Versandi, Bob (interior)
Release Date: 1988
Length:426 sections plus prologue
User Summary: You are a young officer in the British Army. One night, the body of your best friend is found in a subway station, just after a bombing by an Irish separatist terrorist group called 'The Dynamiters.' Was your friend an innocent victim of a terrorist attack? Or was he murdered? You decide to undertake the investigation, without knowing that you are being pulled into the web of a conspiracy to overthrow the Parliament and turn the United Kingdom into a dictatorial state.
Guillermo's Thoughts: (review based on the Spanish translation)

Milt Creighton's first entry is an excellent read and a welcome change of pace for this series. Instead of the interesting but relatively passive whodunits characteristic of Gerald Lientz's books, this book mixes the classic trappings of the detective novel with a political thriller highly reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth's novels. The writing is well paced and engaging, so the book never becomes slow or boring. Furthermore, one thing I do like about this series that is also present here is social analysis: the reader gets to interact with the London poor, with Irish separatists, and with the corrupt upper echelons of the British military, and the way the author portrays them is thought-provoking. Considering the geopolitical situation we live in today, I believe this book is well worth a read: it presents the Irish separatist movement in quite a balanced way, making clear that the methods employed by terrorists are wrong, but at the same time criticizing both English colonialism and the intention to centralize and abuse power in order to suppress dissidence and subjugate the Irish people. The author is also careful not to present his message in a heavy-handed way, which is certainly appreciated. The different characters are developed as they would be in a good novel or play: their behavior is strange at first, but as the plot advances more secrets about them are learned, and at the end of the book everything becomes clear as the player learns how they are all related. This book also marks Holmes and Watson's return as helpful and endearing characters in this series.

The adventure is action-packed and exciting. The player character must do lots of illegal and risky things in order to advance the plot, like breaking and entering into military headquarters, infiltrating the terrorist web, engaging other characters in shoot-outs, etc. This serves to build up tension, since the changes of getting caught or wounded are very real. There do not seem to be any real "endings" besides the successful one; even if you fail by reaching a dead end or getting caught, you are given the option to go back to the beginning with all your clues and start again to pick up what you missed the first time around. Besides noting down clues, deductions and decisions, the player gets to write down 'outcomes' (which are denoted with Roman numerals). These serve to direct the player to the correct section depending on the consequences of previous actions, and is somewhat reminiscent of the 'codes' used in the Falcon gamebook series three years earlier.

Game balance is adequate: die rolls are not easy nor hard, and there are rather few instances where a missed skill roll leads to failure (and even if it does, you don't have to find too many clues in order to solve the mystery, so starting over does not feel frustrating). Since all the skills are taxed at one point or another, I would suggest using the pregenerated character, who is quite balanced.

My main gripe with the book is with the design. The book has lots of interesting detective work for the player to do, but unlike other books in this series, none of the clues seem necessary to reach the successful ending. It's even possible to disarticulate the conspiracy without solving the mystery of the death of your friend or learning who put the bomb in the subway station. While it might not look like this in the first few attempts, I realized everything the player has to do is to progress through to the end of the book without being stopped by the police or the conspirators. I believe the author would have done better if he had designed the adventure so that solving a few subplots was necessary in order to progress to the final confrontation. As it stands, though, most detective work during the adventure (which, by the way, is quite entertaining if you do it) feels as if optional, and this certainly detracts from the experience.

Despite this flaw, the book is fast-paced, engaging and interesting. It's certainly a good example of how the gamebook form can be used successfully to explore a genre other than Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy. Highly recommended.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary.
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