Thu
Apr 12 2012 9:30am

Sherlock Holmes’ Odder Fodder: Curious Books Featuring the Great Detective

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes features stories by Neil Gaiman, Stephen KingAs of May 2011, Guinness World Records claimed that Sherlock Holmes was “the most frequently recurring character on screen,” having been portrayed in 238 films. As far as books that chronicle Holmes and Watson’s adventures, there have been countless volumes published, in addition to those by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Trying to determine how many Holmes books there are may be an exercise in futility, one that recalls Lear’s quip, “that way madness lies.” One site lists more than 300 “novel pastiches in which Sherlock Holmes is at least one of the main characters” and literary luminaries from John Dickson Carr to Michael Chabon to Stephen King are among the hordes who have tried their hand at writing about Holmes. Even listing some of the more offbeat works of Holmes-inspired fiction and nonfiction is a daunting task, but there’s a fairly comprehensive list at unclubables.

Some of the wackier Holmes knockoffs have brought the great detective into the realm of the supernatural, including novels by Loren D. Estleman that pit him against Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde. Along similar lines are The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an anthology in which Holmes encounters various supernatural beasties and which features contributions by Neil Gaiman, Anne Perry, Michael Moorcock and more. In the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, the detective has the misfortune to, as the cover blurb puts it, “enter the dark, nightmare world of H.P. Lovecraft.”

In the silly title category it’s worth giving a shout out to Frank Thomas’s Sherlock Holmes and the Panamanian Girls, Grendel Butler’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Spanking Dervish, and Chris Wood’s Sherlock Holmes and the Flying Zombie Death Monkeys or—alternately—his Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants Of Death, to name some of the more lurid examples.

Sherlock Holmes and the Flying Zombie Death Monkeys by Chris WoodIf you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Holmes and Watson’s great-grandchildren tackled technology-themed crimes in Silicon Valley, wonder no more but hasten to check out The Curious Case of the Purloined Hard Drive or one of six other similarly-themed titles by author C.P. Haus. And while it might not be the wackiest of all Holmes yarns, Sherlock Holmes in Dallas, by Edmund Aubrey, has to be near the top of the list. The 1980 work, as the title suggests (sort of), finds Holmes working to sort out the JFK assassination.

We move now to the category of nonfiction “inspired” by Holmes. Not surprisingly, given the detective’s penchant for shrewd deducting and coldly logical thinking, he has been the impetus for a number of books on topics in which such skills are useful such as Trading in the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes: Balancing Probabilities for Successful Investing.

Author Raymond M. Smullyan brings Holmes, Watson and yes, Moriarty, into the world of chess with The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Fifty Tantalizing Problems of Chess Detection. For medical practitioners there’s Evidence-Based Medicine: In Sherlock Holmes’ Footsteps, by Jorgen Nordenstrom. As the publisher’s description notes, “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the famous fictional detectives, assist throughout, drawing parallels between criminal and medical investigation, and simplifying the processes and themes of EBM.”

Those who tire of having sand kicked in their face might want to try some of the tactics set forth in E. W. Barton-Wright’s The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence: The Manly Art of Bartitsu: As Used Against Professor Moriarty. It details a self-defense system popular at the time when Holmes was all the rage and apparently employed by the detective.

Sherlock Holmes as spiritual guide? That’s what Stephen Kendrick would have us believe. He’s the author of Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes, of which the blurbage says, “If God is the greatest mystery of them all, then why not, in pursuit of God, consult the greatest detective of them all? In this imaginative and surprisingly profound book, Stephen Kendrick reveals Sherlock Holmes as spiritual guide.”

Dining with Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook by Julia C. Rosenblatt and Fredric H. SonnenschmidtIf you’re looking for sustenance of a more substantial sort, then try Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook, by Julia C. Rosenblatt and Fredric H. Sonnenschmidt. If that leaves you feeling unsatisfied, take a gander at The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Great Detective and Dr. Watson, by William Bonnell. Or the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook, by Sean Wright and John Farrell. For more on these volumes try this previous Criminal Element article.

Of course, if you’re like me when you think of Sherlock Holmes the first thing that probably springs to mind is GPS. Or maybe not. But if you’re author Jerry Huang that might just be the case. Huang is the author of All about GPS: Sherlock Holmes’ Guide to the Global Positioning System, a tome that enlists Holmes to make the technology of GPS understandable.

From GPS is it really that big of a step to all things nautical? Methinks not. For the definitive work on nautical stuff in Sherlock Holmes fiction you’d be advised to take a look at The Sherlock Holmes Illustrated Cyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge, by Captain Walter W. Jaffee. An expert on maritime history, it’s possible that Jaffee may have imparted more Holmes-related nautical knowledge than any of us will ever need to know.

To wrap it all up there’s a somewhat offbeat 1979 release called The Life Insurance Conspiracy Made Elementary by Sherlock Holmes, by authors Peter Spielmann, Aaron Zelman and Dean Sharp. Thus far my research on exactly what the book is about or what the conspiracy is has been for naught and at least for now must remain a mystery.


William I. Lengeman III is a freelance journalist with a fondness for gourmet tea and traditional mysteries. He writes about the former at Tea Guy Speaks and the latter at Traditional Mysteries.

Read all of William I. Lengeman III’s posts for Criminal Element.

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4 comments
1. Lakis Fourouklas
One of the best stories that I've read starring Holmes was by Jeffery Deaver in one of his Twisted anthologies; I don't remember in which of the two though since it was a long time ago. The best thing about it was that the good detective was for once outsmarted by somebody else, apart of course from his old nemesis Moriarty.
2. Tony Wolf
It's worth mentioning that while the book The Sherlock Holmes School of Self Defence: The Manly Art of Bartitsu as Used Against Professor Moriarty is attributed to E.W. Barton-Wright, it's actually a modern compilation of excerpts from several of Barton-Wright's c1900 magazine articles, along with a basically unrelated article on self defence with a bicycle that was written by Marcus Tindal.
Deborah Lacy
3. DeborahLacy
I love the Mary Russell books by Laurie R. King where Sherlock meets is intellectual equal and mate.

Sherlock is a character for the ages. I often wonder if Conan Doyle hadn't tried to kill him off if people would be so fascinated for so long...

Great post!
Deborah Lacy
4. DeborahLacy
And I should've mentioned that Sherlock Holmes and the Flying Zombie Death Monkeys is truly an amazing title. Not only do these death monkeys fly, the are zombies. It doesn't get any better than that.
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