ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE HOLMES CANON
By Laurie King
Pegasus, $24.95, 368 pages
He may be a literary phantom but he has captured and dominated the world of mystery fiction for decades and still does.
There remains uncertainty about his life and especially his demise. Sherlock Holmes has been dubbed the man who never lived and never died. Yet this rollicking collection of what might be called Holmesiana demonstrates again the power of the legendary detective and makes clear the questions that hover over his allegedly dramatic and violent death at the Reichenbach Falls in a deadly struggle with his archenemy Professor Moriarty.
There is a delightful touch of irony in the fact that it is indeed Moriarty who raises the question of Holmes’ literary immortality and even pokes fun at the solemnity that surrounds the solemn image of the detective. The allegedly brutal and evil Moriarty emerges as a character who takes neither himself nor Holmes too seriously and is amused by the outrage expressed by the readership of the Strand magazine in the 19th century when the death struggle is unveiled. He seems to find it a little ridiculous that some readers cancel their subscriptions.
“Holmes on the Range” is perhaps the most enjoyable piece in the book. With tongue in cheek it launches the collection and introduces the marvelous secret Caxton Library, which is home to many famed literary figures as well as a confused librarian who drowns his problems in good brandy and tries to understand the colossal egos with which he must cope. It is there that Holmes and Moriarty conclude they are both literary inventions, a theory that is abhorrent to their legion of fans and especially so to the arrogant and condescending Holmes,
The collection is the work of perhaps a dozen familiar writers who obviously have relished the opportunity to bring their beloved characters back to life and more than that, make them entertaining as they were not reliably so in literary life. And they have concocted a most enjoyable and intriguing book which exudes fascinating characters who stretch even beyond the boundaries of Holmes. There is of course the incomparable Doctor Watson who writes Holmesiana and is a crucial aspect of the detective’s life and work. There is Mrs. Hudson, the Holmes housekeeper who turns out to be a good deal more than that to both the detective and Dr. Watson, a suggestion which undoubtedly would have shocked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the great detective and one of those most protective of his privacy and one might also add, his pomposity. Humor is not necessarily Holmesian.
Yet open the book at any page and there is the long hand of Holmes. One chapter goes so far as to suggest that a three-year-old grave is empty. The writers wallow in delicious possibilities of who and what Holmes was and did. Mystery writer Anne Perry contributes a delightful account of how Holmes came to the rescue of a nine-year-old child whose stuffed giraffe has been kidnapped. And there is the intriguing story of a little boy whose name is Sherlock and won’t be otherwise addressed because that, by God, is who he is and whom he is destined to be.
And there is the story of Madam Kitten, a glamorous brothel owner with green eyes who becomes involves in a case involving the crown jewels of England. This is a book full of eloquent ghosts, and its pace slows only when its authors move into the 20th century and the world of hip hop and gangsters which, with the best of efforts, is not really the world of Holmes.
He remains a specter who might be found communing with Edgar Allan Poe on a peaceful and empty grave on which blooms an edelweiss in the midst of conversation that oddly enough bears on Moriarty, who pops up in the weirdest places and becomes so ubiquitous that his communication with Holmes is downright roguish. The most interesting figure interjected into this kaleidoscope is Holmes’ brother Mycroft, with whom he does not always see eye to eye. With few people, maybe his love Irene Adler does Holmes see eye to eye, but who becomes part of the modern world and even terrorism, which is not Holmes’ kind of place. Not that it matters. Just read it and enjoy it.
• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.