The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks [Review]

All great adventures begin by turning the first page…

Location:  at home

Release Date: June 2019

Date Played: April 2021

Team Size: we recommend 1

Duration: ~3 hours, depending on thoroughness

Price: $14.95

Publisher: Ammonite Press

REA Reaction

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks is the first in a series of Holmesian branching-narrative puzzle books. Combining story and puzzles in roughly equal measure, it leads the reader through a second-person adventure of mystery, murder, and escape.

The Adventure of the London Waterworks read like a Choose Your Own Adventure book fortified with Professor Layton-style “everything’s a puzzle” gameplay. The story would be fairly simple without the puzzle layer, and vice versa. But in combination, the narrative structure served as a sturdy framework for puzzle delivery.

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks cover with code wheel.

The solving covered many puzzle types, with frequent appearances of the Dancing Men cipher from the classic Sherlock Holmes story. The puzzle difficulty gradually increased from simple warmups to some genuinely challenging moments. Certain choices cleverly rewarded close scrutiny while deploying red herrings to discourage guessing or cheating.

From cover to cover, The Adventure of the London Waterworks provided several hours of entertainment, with details that rewarded multiple reads. You could enlist the help of your own Watson, but the book seems best suited for a solo puzzling experience, particularly because certain puzzles require close inspection.

Seasoned solvers may not find a hardcore challenge in The Adventure of the London Waterworks, but it’s a good amount of entertainment in a small package. If you’re a fan of interactive fiction books or Sherlock Holmes stories, this one is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Sherlock Holmes fans
  • Gamebook aficionados
  • Puzzlers who enjoy a narrative foundation
  • Readers who enjoy a sprinkling of puzzles

Why play?

  • To get all the endings
  • To feel as smart as Sherlock Holmes
  • Red herrings done right

Story

Playing the role of consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, I followed a mysterious note to the London Waterworks with the trusty Dr. Watson. After infiltrating the pumping station, I made choices and solved puzzles in order to uncover and foil Moriarty’s mysterious plan.

An illustration of some colorful bottles with the text "Turn to the number hidden in the chemicals."

Setup

The Adventure of the London Waterworks played like a Choose Your Own Adventure, with a story that branched based on my choices. Most of the decision points hinged on puzzles that could bring me closer to success if solved correctly, or lead me astray otherwise. Though there were multiple endings, the story mostly followed a linear route with diversions that provided additional clues—or sometimes, after incorrect solutions, false leads.

The book included an introduction, a space for taking notes, and pages in the back with hints and solutions. The pages were peppered with atmospheric art which sometimes illustrated the puzzles at hand. A code wheel embedded in the cover added a fun tactile element.

Since some story segments were shorter or longer than one page, the book was structured around section numbers instead of page numbers. Conveniently, each section included the “from” number so I could see which section I had come from. This reference point helped if I got lost or wanted to backtrack.

Gameplay

The Adventure of the London Waterworks was a puzzle mystery escape book with a medium level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around ciphers, word puzzles, math, logic, observation, and visual acuity. The puzzles came in a wide variety of forms. Most of them would stand on their own outside of the book, but they generally fit the Sherlock theme and waterworks setting.

Close-up of a word search.

Analysis

❓ Unsurprisingly, The Adventure of the London Waterworks included plenty of Sherlock Holmes references. Familiarity with Sherlock lore would add to the experience, but was not essential to solving. However, a quick web search here or there may help provide context if you have zero background knowledge.

❓ The Adventure of the London Waterworks incorporated puzzles somewhat unnaturally at times. The setup reminded me of the Professor Layton series, where seemingly unrelated puzzles help unlock new parts of the story. The idea that Sherlock could catch a criminal by solving a crossword was impossible if I thought too hard about it, but it did feel natural in a more abstract way. Thematically, it worked for me, especially considering the static format of a book.

An illustration of some Dancing Men drawings with the text "Turn to the number spelled out by the Dancing Men."

➕/➖ The shadowy art added a welcome bit of color and character. However, some of the illustrations had small, important details that were hard to see without bright light and sharp eyes.

➕ The puzzle flow mostly felt even and fair. The early puzzles provided a chance to warm up, then the difficulty increased, due to harder puzzles and less feedback on whether I’d answered correctly.

➕ Beyond just providing less feedback, a few later puzzles intentionally penalized cheating, guessing, or making hasty choices. This felt like an elegant way to ensure readers stayed honest and alert.

❓ The code wheel provided many opportunities to anticipate and celebrate getting a correct answer. I didn’t feel like it wore out its welcome, but others might find it tedious to solve so many similar ciphers.

➖ In a couple of instances, one puzzle type required an unexpected leap that wasn’t explained in the solutions. If there was a clue that hinted towards that extra step, I couldn’t find it.

➕ One particular puzzle broke the fourth wall in a fun and unexpected way.

➕ It was nice to have both hints and solutions provided, so I could choose how much guidance I needed.

The Adventure of the London Waterworks rewarded completionism. Wrong choices often provided amusing endings or diversions, and there were hidden secrets to be found even after the story was complete.

Tips For Players

Keeping track of all the threads requires sustained focus. It’s easiest to complete the book in a weekend rather than picking it up occasionally over a number of weeks.

Take plenty of notes, whether in the provided notebook pages or using your own system.

Good lighting is crucial for certain observation-based puzzles. That recommendation of a magnifying glass might come in handy too, especially if you have trouble seeing small details.

Buy your copy of The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ammonite Press provided a sample for review.

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