Encounters of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann is an anthology of short fiction featuring Sherlock himself in a variety of genres from steampunk to straight-up horror (available February 19, 2013).
When it comes to fiction, the crossover—blending or marrying two separate universes into a righteous narrative sandwich—is a curious affair. Especially, dare I say, for Sherlockians. Sherlockians make great hay of the crossover, and indeed, I have reaped such hay myself, in combining the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations with that of the real Jack the Ripper murders in my first novel. As terrible or wonderful or incredible or outrageous or hamfisted or awesome as the idea in question might be, we cannot seem to help ourselves.
Sherlock Holmes (one or another version of him, anyhow) has crossed paths with Oscar Wilde, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Elder Gods, to name a few, and these are all relatively well-known commercial examples. He has traveled on the Titanic. We are unable to stop ourselves from doing this, and as I mentioned—to our wholly insincere regret—we cannot tell when we have gone too far. There is an entire branch of fanfiction devoted to alternate universes in which incarnations of Holmes are students at Hogwarts or associates of James Bond in MI-6. In other words, I am not unaware of this tendency, and neither do I dislike it.
Still. Even I was unprepared for Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.
Encounters of Sherlock Holmes is ridiculous, and I mean that in the most complimentary fashion. It is a thunderously good time. In fourteen mostly well-written short stories, every crossover you didn’t imagine you needed or desired will march across your face in printed words on paper. I mention the paper aspect deliberately. It is neither an exaggeration nor an insult, merely a fact and a commendation, when I say I thought stories like these could only be found on the Internet machine.
I confess that not all the authors of these tales are quite on equal footing when it comes to their familiarity with Sherlock Holmes and his faithful Dr. John Watson. When on the second page of the first story, a tightly wound number by Mark Hodder called “The Loss of Chapter Twenty-One,” I discovered a Watson who was literally shouting at Sherlock Holmes to be more “normal,” my Sherlock alarm buzzed rather vigorously. Watson of all people knows that project for the Hindenburg of lost causes, I would argue. But the story itself, regarding Sir Richard Burton and the disappearance of the more, shall we say, salacious portions of The Scented Garden, held up well.
Meanwhile a later offering, “The Adventure of the Locked Carriage” by Stuart Douglas—who is apparently the proprietor of a bookstore and really ought to be writing pastiches for a living so that I can read more of them—presents as pitch-perfect a Watsonian style and loving attention to character as I could ask for in a short story. The aforementioned is matched by the entertaining and thoroughly warm “The Fallen Financier” by James Lovegrove, an author whose resume of novels, short stories, and awards would take up the rest of this review were I to mention them.
But none of the above, albeit delightful pastiches, are the real guts of Encounters of Sherlock Holmes. We’re talking about crossovers, after all.
In this collection, Sherlock Holmes quite sanguinely investigates “The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador,” a witty fol-de-rol by award-winning science fiction author Eric Brown, in which Holmes navigates names like “Yerkell-Jheer-Carral” and “Gruvlax-Xenxa-Schmee” with an entirely straight face. I really don’t know how he pulled that off, nor do I know if I refer to Brown or Holmes. Holmes crosses paths with one Mr. A. J. Raffles in the ripping “The Property of a Thief” by Dr. Who veteran and playwright Mark Wright. He dips his toes into the world of mechanized monsters in the steampunk-drenched company of Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in George Mann’s “The Case of the Night Crawler”—and with the author of The Affinity Bridge himself at the helm, we are in for a rich slice of octopus pie as narrated by Dr. Watson:
One of its tentacles flicked out and caught Miss Hobbes around the waist, snaking around her and hoisting her high into the air. She looked like a fragile doll in its grip as it swung her around and thrust her, hard, against the nearest wall. She howled in pain and frustration, clutching furiously at the iron tentacle in an attempt to prise herself free.
Incensed, I reached for my service revolver, which I’d secreted in the pocket of my overcoat before setting out from home. It felt cold but reassuring in my fist as I raised my arms, searching for a clear shot in the mist-ridden gloom.
(If anyone is wondering whether the above crossover was a wonderful idea, a terrible idea, or an awesome idea, my vote lies squarely in the awesome camp.)
To be sure, there are a few near-misses—enjoyable ones, ones I’d not demand my fifteen minutes back from, but misses nevertheless to my mind. If you want to crossover Sherlock Holmes with Frankenstein’s monster, by all means do so, and write the tale in the floridly gothic style Nick Kymme chose for “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” But once patched-together corpse boy had wreaked his havoc, when Mr. Hyde (of Dr. Jekyll fame) came sauntering along to thwart our heroes, I started doing the Monster Mash and beating surrounding bushes for Dracula. (Dracula, disappointingly, did not appear to complete the trifecta.)
Likewise, the notion of Mrs. Hudson housekeeping for Professor Challenger after Holmes has retired in “Mrs. Hudson and the Christmas Hotel” by Paul Magrs was so chock full of win I stopped breathing. Throw a Christmas Hotel, an exorcism, a disturbing Mrs. Claus figure, gypsies, and the ominous crystal Eyes of Miimon (they’re Finnish, of course) into the mix, however, and you have given me no mere crossover sandwich. You have given me a reuben on rye on top of a tuna melt on top of a PB&J. And I’m not quite sure how to fit my mouth around it, though I applaud the effort.
“The Demon Slasher of Seven Sisters” by novelist and television writer Cavan Scott deserves note for being utterly charming, comprehensively Sherlockian, and possessed of a wry narrator we don’t have to scrutinize too closely because the callow George Rayne, journalist, isn’t John Watson at all:
Henrietta Stead was many things to many people. To her father she was a disappointment. To her sister she was an embarrassment. To Bramwell Applegarth, distinguished editor of The London Examiner, she was an irritant and to me, well, a man is allowed his secrets, isn’t he?
To Sherlock Holmes, however, she was always the woman; the woman who nearly bludgeoned him to death, that is.
And “The Pennyroyal Society,” though regrettably cavalier with the always chivalrous—or at least he’s supposed to be—character of Dr. Watson, deserves a note and a nod for a stirring female abortionist’s point of view:
All of it gone now, destroyed. This destruction, utter and absolute, shocked Agnes to her core. So vicious. So personal. Not only the lab equipment smashed but also the tea things and the kettle, the soup pot and the chamber pot. There wasn’t a stitch of clothing left that hadn’t been ripped, slashed, or ground into broken glass with a large boot.
But as you can see, those stories are rooted—firmly and entirely—in the real world. Wouldn’t you much prefer to read about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Lovecraftian universe, aided by Abraham Lincoln and Batman, in pursuit of the evil Lord Voldemort? Yes, I thought so. And to that end, I will be sitting down to write that tale now, should editor George Mann ever be prevailed upon to make a sequel to the wonderful Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.
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