Fri
Mar 24 2017 1:00pm

Review: Baker Street Irregulars, Edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Jonathan Maberry

Baker Street Irregulars, edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Jonathan Maberry, features thirteen authors—including Gail Z. Martin, David Gerrold, and Jonathan Maberry—who come together to pen short stories innovating Sherlock Holmes, adapting and revolutionizing the iconic character.

Baker Street Irregulars is a collection of stories about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his universe. But these are not your typical Sherlock stories; they have the genius hero in all guises and forms. In one he is a parrot, another he’s an automaton. There’s Sherlock as a reality TV show host, and a dog from outer space. And there’s many more to offer in this anthology edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Jonathan Maberry. I’m going to highlight just a few of the fantastic stories contained within, but I highly recommend grabbing a copy for yourself for a fun evening along with Sherlock and Watson.

In “Identity” by Keith R. A. DeCandido, Sherlock is a young lady, Shirley Holmes, whose aunt is looking for a companion to be with her as her parents are gone. Watson is a medical doctor in training who had previously served in Afghanistan. He’s looking for a cheap housing situation when Holmes’s aunt enters the picture offering free room and board in a swanky Manhattan townhouse in exchange for looking after Shirley.

We quickly learn Shirley doesn’t really need or want a companion, and we also learn that Shirley has frequent clients who come to her for help in solving mysteries. When Watson sits in on a case, he shows that he can be helpful, and a team is born.

Shirley is classic Sherlock with a modern twist, as seen in one of her spills here:

But getting a free room in this house and not having to put up with her bullshit? “I’ll gladly accept, Mrs. Hudson.”

She frowned again. “Don’t be stupid, my name isn’t Ms. Hudson. Aunt Martha is my mother’s sister, and she committed the barbaric act of changing her name to that of her husband when she married, and kept it following his death. That practice derives from an era when women were considered to be the property of their spouses and so subsumed their birth names for that of the husband. That is no longer the case, so I do not comprehend why women continue to engage in the idiotic practice. In any event, I would properly be identified as “Ms. Holmes,” which is my father’s last name—and my mother’s, actually, as she also underwent the barbaric practice. However, you may address me by my first name of Shirley.”

This one was a favorite.

“The Adventure of the Reluctant Detective” by Ryk Spoor is a very, very interesting entry. Written in the vein of the classic Sherlock tales, this is one of the longer entries. I really enjoyed the ambiance and setting, along with the classic relationship between Sherlock and Watson. It is a tale of ghosts and the supernatural, which instantly makes it one to grab my attention. The supernatural shakes Sherlock up when he cannot disprove it.

Holmes regarded me with mild astonishment, but said nothing. Slowly his expression shifted to the contemplative, and—at last—a faint but genuine smile appeared on his lips. “Ah, Watson. Once more you are the unchangeable rock to which I can anchor. If a ghost exists—and I have been given inarguable proof of this, before my own eyes, under conditions that I do not believe admit of any trickery—then it is—must be—natural for it to exist. Things that are real are, by that very fact, natural. They may not be what we desire to be real, but the fact that our desires cannot change them is what shows them to be true and real.”

This is the ultimate mystery for Sherlock.

“A Scandal in the Bloodline” by Hildy Silverman is a really fun story! Sherlock is a vampire, and Watson is a werewolf. Does it get any better than that? When Sherlock is visited by his maker, he and Watson must help her find her husband, the originator of their bloodline, who has been kidnapped and is in danger. If he dies, so would Sherlock and the others in his bloodline. The stakes are high (oh the puns).

Also, there is a great fight scene that really keeps this story moving. Sherlock is having an existential crisis given that he’s lived for so long and seen so many technological advancements.

“When were we even last employed?” He rose and began to pace the length of the dining area in our modest flat. “I swear I can feel my mind atrophying. In this age of world wide webs and CSIs, FBIs, and so forth there is precious little need for a great detective.” He paused in front of me and for a moment looked so downcast my heart ached on his behalf. “This is my true curse, Watson, more than the bloodthirst. I have outlived my usefulness.”

I loved the supernatural element and the lighthearted feel to this one.

“The Scarlet Study” by Jim Avelli reminded me of the current Sherlock TV show, except it's set in a dystopian landscape. Also, the old movie They Live is brought to mind by way of a parallel plot, as the population is being controlled by big pharma through mind-altering chemicals. Everyone is required to take meds that are catered to their positions. These drugs are not questioned, except for by a few conspiracy theorists such as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.

When Irene Adler, Sherlock’s ex-wife, is murdered, she leaves Sherlock a note along with a mystery pill labeled “Scarlett.” Sherlock takes it and becomes the sleuthing detective we all know. It’s an interesting premise, having a future where the government controls the populace’s thoughts and actions by way of mandatory medicine. 1984 also comes to mind.

Irene’s personal notes about the project included some information about enhancers in other markets as well. Trivalia was listed as a “strength and endurance booster” for the labor market with “cognition-damping” effects. Roburall, meant for police and private security, was shown to enhance “speed of thought, reaction time, and physical dexterity, while hindering a person’s will to question instructions.” The list that followed was a wide range of scripts that were marketed to employers, all of whom required their workforces to participate. Scarlett, Holmes found, was still in the testing phase. The drug was meant for the use of British intelligence or the GCHQ, American CIA, and intelligence contractors of the big multinationals. “Cognitive and deductive” effects were stitched into a cocktail of other stimulants to form a physical and mental toolkit for the military elite. It had only just been approved for human trials.

Wow, author and editor Jonathan Maberry wrote a wonderful story with “The Hammer of God.” He did not use Sherlock in the more conventional way, like many of the other stories. Instead, the main characters are two nuns, Mother Frey and Sister Miri. They are a part of the Office of Miracles. Mother Frey, the elder of the two, is teaching Miri her ways in the art of deduction to solve what mysteries other agencies cannot. I couldn’t help noticing the X-Files-vibe to their work in that they are not trying to prove miracles, but instead disprove them—much like Scully was tasked to do in the beginning of the show.

Here, they must figure out the cause of a string of strange deaths that have been attributed to the “hand of god.” This supernatural explanation does not satisfy Mother Frey, and through deduction she comes to a shocking conclusion.

On a side note, another fascinating element in this story is the hand of god itself. It intrigued me so much that I had to look up the evolution of the modern gun. Connecting an ancient fire lance to a cannon to a gun was a fun bit of research.

Is Miri, the narrator, supposed to be Sherlock with her higher education and prior life experience, or is she supposed to be Watson who is following Frey and learning the ways? Or, is it Frey as Sherlock with her obvious gift of deduction as Miri’s mentor? I can’t make up my mind. Either way, this is easily one of the best stories in the anthology.

“Why should priests be afraid of something that targets the wicked? Shouldn’t it be the guilty, the sinners who need fear?”

She looked at me strangely. “That is exactly why the men of power are afraid, my girl.”

“What do you mean?”

“They fear the wrath of the gods. They fear punishment. They believe that this man and the others have been struck down by something beyond the understanding of men. In the report forwarded to the Office by the council of priests they described these murders in an odd and telling way. They said that they believe the victims were struck down by the hammer of god.”

“Which god?”

“No,” she said, “that is not the question we should ask. It is not which god that need concern us. We must ask ourselves which hammer.”

I really enjoyed this collection. Diverse and super creative, they all bring a new spin on the classic Sherlock universe. Fans might like this break from the norm and fresh take on the old.

Read an excerpt from Baker Street Irregulars!

 

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.

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