In a stunning follow-up to the acclaimed In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger present a brand-new anthology of stories inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, I'm certain he had no idea where his most famous creations—Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson—were headed, which, basically, is immortality. How many film adaptations of Holmes have there been, you ask? Well, the Guinness Book of World Records has bestowed Sherlock with the title of “most portrayed literary human character in film & TV,” appearing no less than 254 times—and that was in 2012, so who knows what the number is up to now. (Not that you asked but Jeremy Brett remains my favorite actor in the part, with Peter Cushing and Benedict Cumberbatch rounding out the top three. You?)
With copyright on the Holmes canon more or less expired and lawsuits from the Doyle estate dwindling, everybody and their publishing uncle can repackage the originals for their own profit, or they can cast the British duo in a new light. Sherlock Holmes on Mars. Why the hell not? Sherlock Holmes Meets the Wolf Man. Yep, only a matter of time, friends.
Some say the quality of these endeavors is eventually going to wear down the overall product of 221B Baker Street. But I’d say not so—the good detective is bigger than the scribbles of any one writer or zealous movie producer … and the outlet is now open for some creative excursions. One such foray into thinking outside the deerstalker hat is the newly released Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, a collection that respects Sir Arthur’s legacy by presenting short stories that runs the rails from fantastical to straight forward crime fiction.
In the opening tale, “Holmes on the Range” by John Connolly, The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository contains a very magical group of literary inhabitants. Beginning in 1477, after Geoffrey Chaucer’s passing, character’s from The Canterbury Tales “transcended their literary origins and assumed an objective reality.” In other words, they assumed a kind of A Night at The Museum lease on life.
Over the centuries, the library became quite crowded, especially when Charles Dickens passed and his menagerie of larger-than-life fictions arrived. But an unexpected problem occurred in 1893 when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. Shortly thereafter, we learn, Doyle wakes up to find something mysteriously written without his conscience knowledge. It involves a questioning Professor Moriarty prodding Holmes to a harsh reality:
“Well, isn’t it a bit strange that it’s never come up before? I mean, if I’m your archnemesis, the Napoleon of crime, a spider at the heart of an infernal web with a thousand radiations, responsible for half that is evil in London—all that kind of thing—and you’ve been tracking me for years, then why haven’t you mentioned me before? You know, it would surely have popped up in conversation at some point. It’s not the kind of thing one tends to forget, really, is it, a criminal mastermind at the heart of some great conspiracy? If I were in your shoes, I’d never stop talking about me.”
Moriarty goes on to explain that, though he is supposed to be a mathematical genius, he has no idea what a binomial theorem is and needles Holmes as to where he obtained his genius—the detective is left grasping for an answer. The quirky technique of character and author coming together has been explored many times before, like in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Bend Sinister (1947) and Julio Cortazar’s short story “Continuity of Parks.” Mr. Connolly adds deliciously to that history with an entertaining-as-hell outcome.
“Holmes on the Range” and sixteen other stories are edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, who have the previous collection In the Company of Sherlock Holmes under their belts. The Echoes Amazon description explains their current modus operandi: “What happens when great writers/creators who are not known as Sherlock Holmes devotees admit to being inspired by Conan Doyle stories?” Many notable names took up the gauntlet, like Anne Perry, Cory Doctorow, David Morrell, Meg Gardiner, and Dana Cameron to name a few.
And that broad criteria allows us to leap from a mythical fantasy of Mr. Connolly to the present day with Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “The Adventure of the Dancing Women.” A sleuth by the name of Annabelle Holmes works with an ex-soldier nicknamed Watson since, as Holmes charmingly explains, both names go hand in hand.
They operate Investigative Associates, which usually solves “missing relatives or pets, the occasional straying spouse, once a stolen manuscript,” but their current case involves a dance instructor concerned over his fiancée’s sudden disappearance. He hires Holmes and Watson, who go undercover at the dance studio, with Holmes posing as a teacher! Hard to imagine Basil Rathbone in this particular “disguise,” but it works with Ms. Ryan’s imaginative, steady hand. If you like Lucy Liu’s performance as Dr. Joan Watson on the TV show Elementary, then you will undoubtedly appreciate this mystery.
“Mrs. Hudson Investigates” by Tony Lee and Bevis Musson is presented in a comic panel form that may have worked even better if it had been drawn in the classic Sydney Paget style, but it still gets major points for clever plotting and humor. To Dr. Watson’s befuddlement, he catches the landlady Mrs. Hudson dressed up in Sherlock’s clothing and bonding with “The Woman” Irene Adler—or, as she recalls Sherlock referring to her as, “That #$@&%*! Woman.” Turns out Mrs. Hudson's greatest nemesis is one Mrs. Stabknife—Professor Moriarty's housekeeper who also wishes to continue the legacy of her particular employer.
A sexist banker unwilling to be helpful in the investigation gets the Sherlockian in-depth once over from Mrs. H: ”You play violin, but not very well. You have a limp, but only on Wednesdays. You like wearing corsets but only when you're being spanked, and you're a fan of badgers.” Ha! He's mortified and begins assisting. An offbeat, amiable diversion bound to land a few chuckles.
Gary Phillips’s “Martin X” finds the dean of black empowerment, Professor Lincoln Barrow, dead with a bullet hole in his forehead. John “Dock” Watson is investigating ahead of the police—called in by the man who found the body. Watson instructs him to not tell the fuzz he was present, and then leaves to attend a speech by Martin X, Civil Rights leader, when all hell breaks loose.
As if in reply, gunfire exploded from the WZIX news van near the stage. But Dock Watson was already in motion. He tackled Martin X as bullets splintered the podium into firewood. A round nicked the back of his calf as the two men landed hard on the sidewalk. All around him people were panicking and there was the squealing of tires and the continued thudding of gunfire as the news van tore away, a police car roaring after it in pursuit.
How the professor and Martin X are connected and if and when Holmes shows up is smartly tied together in this crime number set on the mean streets of New York. Of all the stories in this free-ranging collection, this stirred my enjoyment the most—Holmes and Watson working from the gritty streets of Harlem to the decadent, erudite circles of Manhattan feels so natural. Character development, action, and denouement are worthy of a HBO TV series. Visually, Mr. Phillips hard-boils the hell out of our heroes to great effect.
As with any diverse collection, there were stories I liked more than others, but each brought something new to the Holmes legend. Baker Street Irregulars who like to mix it wide and far will enjoy Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, and I suppose the opposite can be said for aficionados who like their hero strictly Victorian in operation—to them, I say, loosen up.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.