Read reviews of two recent Sherlock Holmes pastiches
The earliest Sherlock Holmes spoof is said to have appeared in 1892, and even Mark Twain once tried his hand at a story drawing humor from the not-so-elementary deductions of a Holmesian figure. Later, more serious attempts were made to expand the variety and number of cases tackled by Holmes and Dr. Watson. In 1944, Arthur Conan Doyle's estate sought to suppress the pseudonymous author/editor Ellery Queen from producing an anthology titled The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. But then Doyle's own son, Adrian, collaborated with John Dickson Carr on a commendable series of pastiches called The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954), and ever since, Holmes knockoffs have proliferated.
Among the best known of these is Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1974), which makes much of Holmes' acknowledged cocaine habit. (Unfortunately, two Meyer sequels -- The West End Horror (1976) and The Canary Trainer (1993) -- don't measure up to the original.) Also worth reading is Michael Hardwick's The Revenge of the Hound (1987), a fine and faithful extension of The Hound of the Baskervilles. But steer clear of Hardwick's previous -- and tedious -- Holmes escapade, Prisoner of the Devil (1979), involving the sleuth with the scandal surrounding French "traitor" Alfred Dreyfus.
Before he took on American statesman Benjamin Franklin as a series snoop (penning books such as London Blood), Robert Lee Hall wrote Exit Sherlock Holmes (1977), which conjectures the sudden disappearance of Holmes and efforts by Watson to find his friend that turn up a pattern of duplicity in Sherlock's personal past. More recently, Carole Bugge's The Star of India (1998) pitted Holmes against his perpetual adversary Professor Moriarty in a case embracing a vanished sapphire, a clandestine love affair, and a chessboard full of clues. Trading on our apparently endless fascination with history's most ill-fated transatlantic liner, William Seil gave us Sherlock Holmes and the Titanic Tragedy: A Case to Remember (1997). And Brazilian Jo Soares took his own turn through Doyle's fictional world with A Samba for Sherlock (1998), an uneven yarn about Holmes and Watson being summoned to Rio de Janeiro by Emperor Pedro II to locate a stolen Stradivarius violin.
Many other books seem to exist solely in order that their authors can have the fun of mixing up Doyle's creations with their famous contemporaries -- factual and fictional. Thus, we are treated to Loren D. Estleman's Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (1979); Daniel Stashower's The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man (1985), teaming Holmes with American magician Harry Houdini; Philip José Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1974), entangling the detective in the Tarzan/Greystoke inheritance matter; Russell A. Brown's Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Friend of Oscar Wilde (1990); Sherlock Holmes Meets Annie Oakley (1990), by Stanley Shaw; The Case of the Philosopher's Ring (1978), by Randall Collins, which throws Holmes in with philosopher Bertrand Russell and Aleister Crowley, the high priest of post-Edwardian mysticism; and Michael Dibdin's The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1978), about the tenants of 221B Baker Street chasing after that archfiend Jack the Ripper. (Another Ripper/Holmes encounter, 1992's The Whitechapel Horrors, by Edward B. Hanna, is a longer but far less engaging story than Dibdin's, with a very disappointing conclusion.) Finally, for those people particularly adept at suspending doubt, there's Christopher A. Leppek's The Surrogate Assassin (1998), which has Holmes and Watson solving US President Abraham Lincoln's assassination 16 years after the fact.
Yet not all additions to the Holmes "canon" have actually starred Conan Doyle's principal protagonists. For instance, both Embassy Row (1998) and Against the Brotherhood (1997), by Quinn Fawcett, find Sherlock's "smarter" brother, Mycroft, at centerstage. In M.J. Trow's The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade and Brigade (both 1998), as well as two more novels set for publication in 1999, the frequently defamed Inspector Sholto Lestrade receives long-overdue acclaim as a clue finder. Several books by Sydney Hosier (the latest being The Game's Afoot, Mrs. Hudson, 1998) have quiet landlady Emma Hudson proving that she, too, boasts a talent for crime solving. Watson fills in the blank spaces of his history and proves his intellectual dexterity in Michael Hardwick's passable The Private Life of Dr. Watson (1983). A cadre of Holmes fans get their chance to borrow the great detective's techniques in A.H. Lewis' Philadelphia-based (and pretty good) Copper Beeches (1971), as well as a couple of other lesser works. Professor Moriarty plays antihero in two books by Michael Kurland, including the Edgar Award-nominated The Infernal Device (1978); and John Gardner (who later authored a new series of James Bond novels) featured "the Napoleon of Crime" in another pair of novels, the best of which is The Return of Moriarty (1974). Meanwhile, Carole Nelson Douglas has created an enjoyable series (including 1990's Good Night, Mr. Holmes) around singer-turned-investigator Irene Adler, who entered Holmes' life in Doyle's short story "A Scandal in Bohemia." And, just to prove that Sherlock did eventually get over the seductive Irene, author Laurie R. King has developed four novels now (the first of which was The Beekeeper's Apprentice, 1994) that posit how, years after his retirement to Sussex beekeeping, Holmes met and wed a perspicacious and much-younger woman, Mary Russell, who helped him extend his detecting career.
Then, of course, there are numerous collections of Sherlockian short stories. From the superior 512-page Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (1997), edited by Michael Ashley; to The Game Is Afoot (1995), The Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, MD (1996), and The Confidential Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1998), all edited by Marvin Kaye; The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes (1998), by Donald Thomas; and Holmes for the Holidays (1996). These volumes send Holmes and Watson in almost every conceivable investigatory direction. At various times the pair look into the alleged bigamy of King George V; get involved in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907; infiltrate the Fenian Brotherhood at Moriarty's behest; and, yes, go undercover in drag.
For modern wordsmiths, no plot is too far-fetched to include literature's most recognizable sleuthing duo. Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (1995), edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, even has them traveling through time. | January 1999
J. KINGSTON PIERCE is the crime fiction editor of January Magazine.
Read a review of the latest Holmes and Watson adventure, Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders.