Since 2014, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed that the character Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain, there has been no shortage of stories featuring the Great Detective. There have been so many that I’ve included samplings in nearly all of my Jury Box columns over the past year. This month we start off with a book that gives an unusual and unlikely—but remarkably original—spin on the Holmes/Watson mythos.
William S. Kirby, Vienna, Forge, $26.99. Justine Am is a high-end fashion model on a European tour whose boyfriend has just been murdered. Vienna is an autistic savant, a walking Wikipedia with mysterious aristocratic connections and a lack of social skills. When the two young women become unlikely lovers, they discover strange codes, dead bodies, and manikins that appear to move, leading them on a dangerous chase. The dialogue is sometimes overly smart, detracting from credibility, but in the end, Vienna is an engaging tale with interesting characters and a unique spin on Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.”
Paul D. Gilbert, Sherlock Holmes and the Unholy Trinity, Hale. £19.99. In Gilbert’s fifth volume about Holmes and Watson, the death of a cardinal and the disappearance of an ancient Coptic manuscript take the Great Detective and his chronicler first to the Vatican and then to Egypt. Gilbert weaves his story from two fragmented references—Watson’s mention of the “sudden death of Cardinal Tosca” in “The Adventure of Black Peter” and “the case of two Coptic Patriarchs” in “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”—as well as from the very real discovery in 1896 of the Gospel of Mary. The plot suffers from being drawn-out, but the background material is interesting, and the style is very true to Doyle.
Bonnie MacBird, Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure, Collins Crime Club, $25.99. Dr. Watson’s concern over his friend’s cocaine addiction is cut short and the game is once again afoot when a coded message leads Holmes and Watson to Paris where a beautiful singer believes her son has been abducted. Tensions rise when a Greek statue goes missing, and Holmes discovers an English Lord with ties to an American mafia family and child-labor conditions too scandalous even for 1888. Add in painter Toulouse-Latrec and a detective who claims to be the grandson of Sûreté founder Eugène Vidocq, and you have all the ingredients of a fast-moving, well-researched adventure.
Douglas G. Greene, editor, I Believe in Sherlock Holmes: Early Fan Fiction from the Very First Fandom, Dover, $19.95. Sherlock Holmes has amassed more fans, and inspired more stories, than perhaps any other fictional character. This Dover collection, edited and with an introduction by Douglas G. Greene, includes pastiches and satires written while Arthur Conan Doyle was still living. The collection begins with Robert Barr’s 1892 story featuring Sherlaw Combs, and concludes with a 1920 send-up of book collecting by Vincent Starrett. The fourteen stories include spoofs by Bret Harte, Ellis Parker Butler, Maurice Leblanc, O. Henry, and Mark Twain, whose potboiler novelette “A Double-Barrelled Detective Story” features Holmes and his American nephew, Fetlock Jones.
Otto Penzler, editor, The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, Vintage Crime, $25.00. Particularly impressive is this huge collection of eighty-three stories about Holmes. Penzler, who provides an introduction to the volume and to each story, has organized the book into sections including “Contemporary Victorians”(with such modern authors as John Lutz, Anne Perry, John T. Lescroart, and Daniel Stashower), “Holmesless” (with stories set in Sherlock’s universe, but without the Great Detective himself), and “Not of This Place” (fantasy and science-fiction stories by Anthony Boucher, Loren D. Estleman, and others). The book opens with a section of Holmes pastiches by Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Other authors include James M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen King, Laurie R. King, and Edward D. Hoch.
The Sherlock Holmes Book, DK, $25.00. For decades, British publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK) has produced attractive and informative picture books for children and adults. This volume sets out to describe and explain every short story and novel written by Doyle about Sherlock Holmes. Plots, themes, and forensic principles are illustrated with photographs, artwork, and diagrams. Unfortunately the book also divulges solutions to the stories, which for many readers will detract from the pleasure of discovery and surprise. This is, nonetheless, a nice reference book, particularly for those who have already read the canon.
Elly Griffiths, The Zig Zag Girl, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00. While it is outside of the realm of Sherlock Holmes, the first in a new series by Griffiths contains a classically constructed plot. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens spent WWII as part of a top-secret division of magicians tasked with using illusion and misdirection to fool the enemy. When three separate segments of a corpse turn up, Stephens is reminded of a stage illusion designed by a former war colleague. Teaming up with several magician friends and a pretty young magician’s assistant, Stephens sets out to solve the murder, only to find that he and his friends may be targets. In this first book in her Magic Men series, Griffiths makes strategically useful and technically accurate use of stage-magic lore and tells a wonderful story that is at turns funny, touching, and edge-of-your-seat thrilling.
Christopher Fowler, Bryant and May and the Burning Man, Bantam, $26.00. Fowler and the ragtag team of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit have long been a favorite of mine. The latest title reads well, but it lacks the clever plotting and originality of most of the previous books in the series. During a series of demonstrations in protest of banking corruption, a fire is set on the steps of a bank, killing the homeless man camping there. The identity of the burnt man and the reason for his death are the mystery The real story that makes this book worth reading is the friendship betweenaging detectives May and Bryant, and the deteriorating state of the latter.
A number of other recent works by Sherlockians have come to my attention. Pennie Mae Cartawick, who has composed dozens of pastiches that she’s made available in collections, has two new anthologies of her stories. The Dubious Hunt Collection (CreateSpace Publishing, $6.49) and The Gaslight Collection (CreateSpace Publishing, $5.88), both published in fall 2015.
Not to ignore Holmes’s arch-nemesis, British writer and anthologist Maxim Jakubowski has assembled thirty-seven stories about Professor Moriarty in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty (Robinson, £9.99), available in the U.K., and through various channels elsewhere. Contributors include Barbara Nadel, Alison Joseph, and Martin Edwards.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s friendship and eventual falling out with Harry Houdini is well documented. The comic-book miniseries Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini, (Dynamite Publications, $3.99 per issue), written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with art by Carlos Furuzono, chronicles the rivalry between the great escape artist and Holmes himself, until the two men team up when all of London is threatened by history’s most notorious spiritualist. The miniseries completed its five-issue run last spring and is now available complete in a 128-page trade paperback edition (Dynamite, $19.99).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with introduction by Michael Dirda, Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, Penguin Books, $25.00. Just as this column was due for release, a new important work of Sherlockiana appeared on my desk. Penguin Classics has collected all four of Doyle’s novels featuring Holmes (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Valley of Fear), wrapped it in a beautiful cover designed by Adam Simpson, and included an introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda (who earned an Edgar Award for On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling in 2012). Dirda’s introduction provides a candid but affectionate critique, adding background, context, and analysis of the novels.