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The Jury Box

 By Steve Steinbock

This past year saw the conclusion of the “Free Sherlock” case, a copyright battle that went as far as the U. S. Supreme Court. The case was triggered by Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger, who sued the Conan Doyle estate to assert the public-domain status of the Sherlock Holmes character, allowing for its free use in In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, coedited by Klinger and discussed in this month’s column. The “Free Sherlock” case—as well as the popularity of the BBC series Sherlock—probably led to the plethora of new Holmes pastiches, collections, reproductions, reference books, and Sherlockian scholarship. The titles reviewed this month include a sampling of each of these as well as a comic-book series scripted by an author who may surprise readers. Also included are assorted other titles that fit, in one way or another, with the spirit of Sherlock Holmes.

The ForgersBradford Morrow, The Forgers, Mysterious Press, $24.00. The hero of this sophisticated thriller is an unnamed former art forger specializing in counterfeit Arthur Conan Doyle inscriptions. When his girlfriend’s brother, a man also connected with forgery, is found dismembered and surrounded by vandalized rare books, our hero and his girlfriend try to understand what happened before they become the next targets. The Forgers gets high marks for literary quality and for the hero’s fascination with Doyle and Holmes. Many readers will find the narrative stiffly sophisticated and distant, with too much internal thought getting in the way of the story, but the Sherlockian and bibliophile content make it worthy of consideration.


Larry Millett, Strongwood: A Crime Dossier, University of Minnesota Press, $25. For his seventh mystery featuring saloon keeper Shadwell Rafferty and Sherlock Holmes, Millett has created a brilliant epistolary novel about a sensational 1903 trial. Young and beautiful, Adelaide Strongwood is on trial for the murder of her lover, a wealthy, womanizing heir to a Minnesota manufacturing fortune. The role of Sherlock Holmes is small but significant. While in the U.S. to take Watson to an American hospital, he assists Rafferty in investigating the case on behalf of the defense. The entire story is told through courtroom proceeding, newspaper stories, evidence lists, and correspondence.

These were so authentically written that I had to double-check to make sure Millett had invented them and not drawn them from real historical records. Brilliantly constructed, in the tradition of Stoker’s Dracula, this novel is entirely unique and engaging.

David Liss, Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives (volume 1, issues 1- 5), Dynamite, $3.99 per issue. Liss has been highly respected in the mystery field since the publication of A Conspiracy of Paper in 2000. His work, primarily historical mysteries, is intelligent and well researched. Little did I know that he—like a small handful of other successful novelists—had crossed over to the comic-book arena. This five-issue miniseries about James Moriarty shows the same level of research, and the gritty, evocative illustrations of Carlos Furuzono, Daniel Indro, and Olavo Costa capture the essence of Victorian and pulp styles. The story is set immediately after the incident at Reichenbach Falls, and follows the Napoleon of Crime as he establishes a new empire in Switzerland. The picture of Moriarty that Liss brings us is of a master planner and manipulator, a foe equal to Holmes in ingenuity.

Also released last September was Liss’s novel, The Day of Atonement (Random House, $28.00), featuring 18th-century bounty hunter Benjamin Weaver, a descendant of Portuguese Jews. The story centers on Weaver’s young ward, an orphan who fled the Portuguese Inquisition and returns seeking vengeance on the priest res-ponsible for his parents’ deaths. It’s interesting to note that both Moriarty Lives and The Day of Atonement, like much of Liss’s work, share the essential themes of comic-book masked vigilantes like The Shadow and Batman.

*** Valerie Estelle Frankel, Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3, LitCrit Press, $9.99 paperback, $2.99 e-book. Astute viewers of the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, will have caught the many subtle allusions to events, characters, and other elements from Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories. The title of this reference book is a mouthful, but the book’s contents are not. Popular-culture maven Frankel, who has written on everything from Superman to classical mythology, has done precisely what the title promises. Hundreds of characters, speeches, cases, and throwaway lines in the BBC series are referenced, and Frankel describes their bases in the canon. A fun volume filled with interesting tidbits and surprises.

The Baker Street Irregulars, America’s oldest Sherlockian society, regularly publishes scholarly works and facsimile editions. Two anthologies of scholarly work by BSI members have been published in the past year: The Remarkable Characters of Arthur Conan Doyle (HC, $35.00) edited by Joel B. Silver, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birth, contains studies primarily about his non-Sherlockian work, and Sherlockian Saturdays at the Pratt (TPB, $21.95) features twenty-eight articles edited by William Hyder covering thirty years of scholarship from the Baltimore chapter of the BSI. The two-volume limited edition Undershaw Set (slipcased, $165.00) contains signed, numbered copies of Remarkable Characters as well as Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle. BSI’s latest facsimile edition is Irregular Stain (HC, $39.95), containing a copy of the handwritten original manuscript of the story published in 1904 as “The Adventure of the Second Stain” together with a facsimile of the galley proofs of the story for the 1904 issue of the Strand Magazine.

It also contains various scholarly notes, annotations, full articles, and proofs of Sidney Paget’s original illustrations. The volume is visually stunning, physically well-constructed, and a must-have for the serious collector.

Also for serious collectors is The Texas Set (limited slipcase, $185.00) which includes numbered matching editions of BSI’s recent annotated facsimiles of “Bohemian Souls” (published as “Scandal in Bohemia”) and “The Wrong Passage” (published as “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”). The boxed set also contains a separate forty-page paperback index prepared by Adrian Nebbett.

Each year Titan Books publishes several Holmes pastiches. Recent titles have included Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War ($14.95) by James Lovegrove, and Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box ($12.95) by George Mann, both set during the First World War. Titan also published Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of Sherlockian horror and steampunk stories edited by Mann, with stories by Guy Adams, Andrew Lane, and others.

The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age (Gasogene Books, $24.95) is a collection of essays proving that interest in Sherlock Holmes is bound neither by age nor gender. Edited by Kristina Manente, founder of “Baker Street Babes” (an all-women Sherlockian society), and her cohorts Maria Fleischhack, Sarah Roy, and Taylor Blumenberg, it celebrates “a New Generation on Sherlock Holmes.” Laurie R. King’s introduction attests that the “academical Game” of Sherlockian scholarship has entered a new millennium.

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus, $24.95) was the book that ignited the “Free Sherlock” court case. It is an anthology of sixteen new stories inspired by the Holmes canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger. The all-star cast of contributors includes Michael Connelly, Harlan Ellison, Gahan Wilson, Jeffery Deaver, and Michael Dirda.


 © 2015 Steve Steinbock

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