Monday, September 20, 2010

Baker Street Irregular -- John Lellenberg

Baker Street Irregular, the first Arkham House book in several years, is billed as a mystery/espionage thriller. Maybe so, but to me it was more like the kind of novel that I used to read fairly often, a big, sweeping historical that blends the coming-of-age story with the story of changing eras in 20th century.

Our hero is Woody Hazelbaker, a young midwesterner who works for a prominent New York law firm during the Depression. He's afraid he might lose his job, as others have, but because of his un-lawyerly personality, the head of the firm gives him a new client, one that others in the firm wouldn't care to work with: Owney Madden.

Madden is the first of many actual historical figures to appear in the pages of the novel, and Hazelbaker learns a lot from their association. He profits from it in a lot of different ways as the story moves along.

Hazelbaker also falls in with Christopher Morley's Baker Street Irregulars, and it's a lot of fun to see what Lellenberg does with characters like Morley, Rex Stout, Alexander Woolcott, Basil Davenport, Lucius Beebe, and Fletcher Pratt, to name a few.

When WWII comes along, Hazelbaker and many of the other Irregulars are involved in various ways, primarily with code-breaking and espionage. They're a big help to the allies, and Hazelbaker sees a bit of England and Europe along the way. He's a married man now, though separated from his wife, and that part of the story is also tied to the war effort.

I was a bit intimidated when I saw how long this book was, but the writing swept me up and carried me right along. The complex story is easy to follow, and Woody Hazelbaker is an engaging and sympathetic narrator. Sherlockians will enjoy the by-play among the Irregulars, and everyone will get a nice refresher course in mid-20th century American history. Baker Street Irregular is an ambitious and entertaining book. I really enjoyed it.


Richard R. said...

This one isn't listed in the couple of places I looked for it, so it must be a future publication. Except Arkham House doesn't list it on their website as a future publication either. Do you have any more info?

Unknown said...

Hmmmm. I can't get my hands on the book at the moment, but I'll get back to you.

Unknown said...

Okay, here ya go, assuming the link works, if you click here, you should find a page with other reviews, including a starred one from PW, along with a link you can click to read a sample chapter.

Richard R. said...

I've followed through with all that and sent an inquiry to the email given for pre-ordering the book. Thanks.

Fred Blosser said...

George Vanderburgh's Battered Silicon Box website seems to be the most useful resource on upcoming Arkham House titles.

It looks like Mr. Vanderburgh and Bob Weinberg are now serving as editors for AH. The forthcoming titles look promising, including a Greye La Spina collection and a facsimile edition of August Derleth's ARKHAM SAMPLER in hardcover.

Richard R. said...

I have contacted George and he has kindly reserved me a copy, to be sent to the new address once I get there, since the release date is just a day before I arrive. Nice service.

George Vanderburgh said...

First of all, Thank you for the review. The release date is mid Novemebr 2010, and we are taking advance orders. The Arkham House webmaster is aware of the situation, and questions and inquiries to in the meantime, and after the book is listed as well.
George A. Vanderburgh

mikechomko said...

You can also order BAKER STREET IRREGULAR from Mike Chomko, Books. I received my copies a couple of weeks back. My website is at the following:

I'll be posting my November catalog over the weekend. There will be ordering information for BAKER STREET contained therein.