March 17, 2014

Jewel of the Thames: A Portia Adams Adventure


by Angela  Misri
Fierce Ink Press
 978-1-927746-50-9
238 pp.
Ages 12+
March 2014


Take yourself back to London after the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is), after the death of Queen Victoria and at the beginnings of the city's transformation into a modern city with an underground, electric trams above ground, and a mixture of Gregorian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Nouveau stylings.  And Scotland Yard working against all nature of crime, sometimes with the help of consulting detectives, the most famous of which was Sherlock Holmes.  But in this London, add a youthful, female version of Mr. Holmes, named Portia Adams, and you have Angela Misri's new young adult book, Jewel of the Thames.

With her mother's death from breast cancer in 1930 Toronto, nineteen-year-old Portia has lost all the family she has ever known: her father, Charles Eagle, to the Great War; her maternal grandmother, Constance Adams; and now her mother, Marie Jameson née Adams.  But the appearance of the elderly and wealthy Mrs. Irene Jones of New Jersey as the only person other than Portia mentioned in her mother's will brings a new guardian into Portia's life, one who will ensure her care and education and allow her to accept her inheritance of the house at 221 Baker Street, London.

So Portia, who chooses to use her mother's maiden name of Adams now, becomes landlady at 221 Baker Street and chooses to live upstairs from her tenants, an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dawes, and their son Brian, who is completing his Scotland Yard training for a police constable.  This startling life change is nothing compared to Portia's learning that she is the granddaughter of Dr. John Watson, the biographer and friend of 221B Baker Street's most famous resident, Sherlock Holmes.  While puzzled by the secrets both her grandmother and mother kept from her about her heritage, Portia is delighted to learn of her grandfather's work through his long-stored case books and to share her predilection for justice, as well as inductive and deductive reasoning, with Brian Dawes with whom Portia establishes a fast friendship.

While the book is named Jewel of the Thames, it's also the title of the first of three case books shared in Angela Misri's first Portia Adams AdventureJewel of the Thames focuses on a string of burglaries that Brian is investigating for Scotland Yard, and which he discusses with Portia.  Gleaning valuable information about robberies, crime scenes and using disguises from the wealth of case books left to her, Portia pursues possible solutions to the crimes. But, while her skills of logic and detection have earned her the support of her Somerville College professor, Chief Inspector Archer of Scotland Yard, her intrusion into police cases is seen as meddling by Brian's supervisor, Sergeant Michaels, regardless of how he can take advantage of her positive results.

Her second case, A Case of Darkness, comes her way via a classmate, Mr. James Barclay, who requires some discrete inquiries made regarding the strange behaviours of his older sister, Miss Elaine Barclay, particularly in regards to their father's mysterious and debilitating illness.

The final case in this tome is titled Unfound and centers on a missing child aboard the train on which Portia is travelling to Scotland to visit Mrs. Jones for the Christmas holidays.  Even with an eight-hour non-stop journey, the search for the little girl seems impossible, until Portia intervenes.

The inclusion of three cases in one book is very Holmesian (or should that be Conan-Doylely?) but the three are easily tied together by Portia's continuous research into her family, often relying on Mrs. Jones for information.  Ever the traveller, Mrs. Jones pops in randomly to check on her ward and evade or discretely answer the barrage of questions posed to her by Portia.  Portia is determined to learn everything about why and how her grandmother and mother separated themselves from her British relatives, and what role Mrs. Jones plays in this secret history. 

Angela Misri's research into 1930's London and the books of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's cases for Jewel of the Thames has obviously been extensive.  Without relying on the smog and poor sanitary conditions of Holmes' turn-of-the-century London to establish atmosphere (no pun intended), Angela Misri easily embeds Portia Adams in a London of many textures, from its landscape to its climate and people, to its politics and society.  The criminals may not be losing themselves in the pea soup smog or crowds in Sherlock Holmes' early years, but they still make use of the bridges, fear, poisons and common practices of the people to get away with their nefarious actions.  
(1)

Luckily Portia Adams is clever but never arrogant (unlike the oft-condescending Holmes), regularly questioning herself and chastizing herself about her mistakes.  Moreover, she attempts to use her skills to make things right, whether it be for a banished cat, a sibling rival or a victim of abuse.  She wraps her logic and solutions in compassion, recognizing that sometimes good people do bad things.  It is that thoughtfulness and sincere modesty that make Portia Adams a finer detective than Holmes could ever have been, and a far more worthy character for readers to admire and follow. And follow Portia Adams I will, into her subsequent cases, into resolving the secrets of her family history and into an upcoming romance with a character already-introduced that isn't Brian Dawes.  The suspense is killing me!  That's one mystery only Angela Misri can solve, with Book 2 in her Portia Adams Adventure series.


(1) This word cloud in the silhouette of Portia Adams was created by Angela Misri and retrieved from her website for her Portia Adams Adventures at http://aportiaadamsadventure.com/


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WANT TO WIN AN eCOPY of JEWEL OF THE THAMES?
As part of the Jewel of the Thames Blog Tour, running from March 17 to April 3, Fierce Ink Press has generously offered an ebook giveaway of Jewel of the Thames for a reader of CanLit for LittleCanadians.  Leave a comment below (before noon (EST) on March 19, 2014) explaining why you'd like to read Jewel of the Thames, for your chance to win a copy of the ebook.

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TOMORROW
Watch this site tomorrow for a Q & A with Jewel of the Thames author Angela Misri as part of Jewel of the Thames Blog Tour, for revealing thoughts about her new series and more.

2 comments:

Darlene said...

I would love to win this book. This is my kind of story. Greta review.

Helen K said...

Thanks for your comment, Darlene. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did. And you are the winner for the free ebook of Jewel of the Thames, courtesy of Fierce Ink Press. They'll be in touch soon. Congrats and enjoy!