Exactly What I Wanted: More Sherlock Holmes! (Part One)

sh_rose_jbI love Sherlock Holmes. I mean, I really, really, really love Sherlock Holmes. So much so that I will not, under any circumstances that I can foresee, go to see the new movie starring Robert Downey Jr. (Chained naked to a bed, indeed. Harrumph! Sherlock Holmes would never contrive to find himself in that … er … position.)

I cut my teeth on Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Hound of the Baskervilles was my favorite book when I was a kid (a Scholastic Book Club find) and when I saw Jeremy Brett perform as Holmes in the BBC series, I was hooked. We have several collections of the Doyle stories which are much read, but once you’ve memorized all the dialogue and know all the twists and turns, that wonderful sense of discovery they once evoked is replaced by a sort of cozy familiarity. What was once a spicy chicken tagine is now matzo ball soup—still beloved and comforting, but no longer exotic.

Every once in a while I pick up a Holmes pastiche and am usually disappointed because like those old Basil Rathbone movies, many writers fail to capture Holmes’s voice. So, imagine my curiosity when I found a collection of Holmes stories from Night Shade Books in the dealer room at the World Fantasy Convention. I bought the volume and read it with increasing delight. Most of the writers not only caught the accents of Sherlock Holmes’s unique voice, but put the great detective and his chronicler, Dr. Watson into some truly improbable and bizarre situations. Hence the title of the collection: THE IMPROBABLE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (edited by John Joseph Adams).

How improbable? Well, let’s see. He meets Cthulu (or something much like it), he time travels to the future, he battles the magical, the demonic, the haunted and the simply weird in this night gallery of stories by such diverse and wonderful talents as Stephen King, Anne Perry, Anthony Burgess, Laurie R. King (more on her next time), Geoffrey A. Landis, Sharyn McCrumb, Michael Moorcock, Barbara Hambly, Naomi Novik, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman and our own Vonda N. McIntyre.

Most of the stories succeed admirably, in my opinion, at allowing the reader to experience that fresh scent of excitement and discovery that made reading the Doyle stories for the first time such a heady experience. In fact, only one of the stories failed to evoke the real Holmes for me, while another I found captured his voice, but left me without that signature “aha!” moment that I so treasure.

I will not say which stories these were, because I don’t want to color your perceptions if you should purchase this wonderful book (which is available at Barnes & Noble brick and mortar stores as well as online). And I do recommend highly that fans of Sherlock Holmes purchase and read this book. It is well worth the $15.

My favorite story from the batch? I’m not sayin’.

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Exactly What I Wanted: More Sherlock Holmes! (Part One) — 6 Comments

  1. Did you like THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION by Nicholas Meyer? That was the first not-Doyle Holmes story i approved of.

  2. I really like the Laurie R. King Holmes-Russell mysteries, particularly the first two. She manages to tell you at the outset that these are not “Uncle John” Watson’s memories, they are Mary Russell’s, and the Holmes Russell remembers is a different man than the one Watson wrote about. He’s still Holmes, but with a more humanized aspect.

  3. I have to admit, I have a completely reflexive way of deciding if I like a Holmes pastiche or not. I automatically imagine Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. If I can’t imagine him speaking the dialogue or taking the actions, the story won’t work for me. When I read Doyle’s work, Brett IS Holmes. In part because so much of the dialogue in the BBC productions is right out of the book and in part because Brett was a freakishly brilliant actor. (Sigh. I sure miss him.)

    I watched an old Basil Rathbone Holmes the other night and realized that he looked the part, but didn’t talk the talk or walk the walk.

  4. I’m brand new to Holmes, but I already love him! No, I haven’t seen the movie, I started reading both the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for an English Literature class and they’ve stuck to me more so than most of the books I read in ’09.

    Long live Holmes!

  5. Oh, what happiness lies before you! Read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES before winter is over; it’s a book that should be read when the weather is bad.