Holmes fanatics rejoice! Finally there is a collection of stories that adequately celebrate, and imitate, the original.
I am always suspicious when approaching a book that carries on where the original left off. Death Comes to Pemberley, Rebecca’s Tale, The House of Silk, and The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes all failed with varying degrees of embarrassment. As a reader, I was left angry, disappointed and frustrated by those titles.
A fatal flaw in those and so many similar books is the temptation to somehow recreate a more formal past. Silk dresses and fancy mansions overshadow a good story with interesting characters.
I’ve often argued that what makes Holmes so good, and so evergreen, is the simplicity. The style of writing is not fanciful and the adventures are varied. The loss of a gem or a horse is found next to dictionary transcription and a quiet child in equal measure.
Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. …”
“Why do you not write them yourself?” I said, with some bitterness.
“I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a text-book which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.” “The Adventure of Abbey Grange,” Arthur Conan Doyle, 1904
Somehow, Faye manages to capture the tone of the Baker Street just right. As with the original, these stories do not become bogged down with intricate plots or earth-shattering revelations. By and large, Faye’s writing is good enough that a reader forgets it is not Conan Doyle. There is an occasional phrase that doesn’t quite sound right to the reader’s ear, but these are uncommon and one can easily regain the flow of the story.
Perhaps the most ambitious is “Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma”, a story that imagines what Holmes was doing while he sent Watson to deal with the trouble on the moors near Baskerville Hall. It is one of two stories written in Holmes’ voice, comprised of excerpts from the “personal diary of Mr Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” and the experiment works well. Even if it is not the strongest of the bunch, it is certainly the most difficult for the author to attempt. And the outcome is quite enjoyable.
The doctor knows one thing: I loathe blackmailers.
What comparison can be made between an impetuous act of violence and the deliberate ruination of a human life for no reason save personal profit — the slow siphoning of money, joy, and security all in a single foul act? There is no honor in the deed — as honor can be found even in murder — no more mercy in its perpetrators than milk in a male tiger, as the Bard puts it. ~”Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma,” Loc.1571
My favorite is probably “The Adventure of the Vintner’s Code,” set on a crisp, snowy New Year’s Eve. Holmes is in a foul mood and manages to irritate Watson to the brink of leaving for the evening, when Sherlock reels him back in with a story of stolen music involving one of their neighbors.
Their strange but immutable friendship is also explored in “An Empty House,” a tale told through Watson’s personal diary in the days following the death of his wife Mary. Their old comrade Lestrade attends the funeral and the two reminisce about a case from before the Fall.
Faye has managed something I thought impossible. I knew of her strength in writing Victorian novels but I am pleased to report her Sherlock stories are stellar. They are adventurous, insightful and loyal to the canon.
I will gladly grab my coat and trusty service revolver, and follow wherever Faye wishes to lead me.
Read via NetGalley. My thanks to Mysterious Press for the advance e-galley.
By Lyndsay Faye
Hardcover: 388 pages
Publisher: Mysterious Press (March 7, 2017)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches
Because it can be difficult to find a listing of the stories included, here is the Table of Contents:
PART I: Before Baker Street
The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness
The Adventure of the Magical Menagerie
The Adventure of the Vintner’s Code
PART II: The Early Years
The Adventure of the Honest Wife
The Adventure of the Beggar’s Feast
Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma
The Lowther Park Mystery
PART III: The Return
An Empty House
The Adventure of the Memento Mori
Notes Regarding the Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore
The Adventure of the Willow Basket
PART IV: The Later Years
The Adventure of the Lightless Maiden
The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel
The Adventure of the Mad Baritone
Notes Upon the Diadem Club Affair