Edited by George Mann — With Sherlock Holmes out of copyright, authors are free to use the character and his partner in crime fighting Dr John Watson in stories as they wish. Even leading authors like Anthony Horowitz have had a go. Here George Mann, who has written on episodes of both Dr Who and the BBC’s Sherlock series, collects together 14 new short stories by a variety of his authorly cohorts.
Anthologies of this kind tend to succeed or fail on the balance they strike. Follow the style and formula laid down by Conan Doyle too slavishly and the stories risk not standing out against the many other pastiches that have been written. Either that or they don’t measure up to the originals. After all, Doyle pretty much perfected them first time around. On the other hand, stray too far from Doyle’s blueprint, and the authors risk alienating the very audience they are supposed to attract. Mann has attempted to get round this problem in two ways. Firstly, many of his chosen authors blend in subtle elements of either science fiction or horror within the crime fiction setting. Secondly, they introduce other fictional characters, either from classic literature or more current series.
The collection begins with The Loss of Chapter Twenty-One by Mark Hodder. Hodder has his own series of Victorian mysteries featuring the historical figures of poet and libertine Algernon Swinburne, and the explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton. The duo join forces with Holmes and Watson to investigate the theft of a groundbreaking (and taboo-busting) manuscript Burton was completing.
Cavan Scott, mainly active in science fiction, contributes The Demon Slasher of Seven Sisters. Here Holmes investigates a series of terrible attacks thought to be either the work of Jack The Ripper or Springheeled Jack, but the solution turns out to be more prosaic and, in a way, contemporary. The Post-Modern Prometheus by Nick Kyme. The discovery of an eviscerated corpse leads to an adventure that includes the likes of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster. Kyme manages to evoke a suitable atmosphere of dread.
Mrs Hudson at the Christmas Hotel by Paul Magrs is probably my favourite story in the collection. Hudson is the much-put-upon landlady of Holmes and Watson, but here she takes centre stage as she recounts a series of increasingly bizarre, threatening and comic experiences in the Miramar Hotel, Whitby. That other famous Doyle creation, Professor Challenger, joins the story as well.
George Mann’s own story, The Case of the Night Crawler, unsurprisingly sees Holmes and Watson interacting with the author’s own characters. In this case it’s Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes and it’s an adventure featuring mechanical submersibles has a steampunk feel to it that naturally works well within the Victorian setting. The Property of a Thief by Mark Wright pits Holmes against Arthur J Raffles, gentleman thief in a country house mystery. You’ll be left wondering right up to the end who will come out on top. Raffles was a character created by EW Hornung, another founding father in the genre and brother-in-law to Conan Doyle.
Out of the 14 stories, only a couple were a disappointment- the rest provide good value. The introduction of real and fictional characters is mostly successful, but Mann and his contributors have been careful not to neglect Holmes and Watson at the expense of their own creations. The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Greenberg and Waugh set the bar for this kind of collection back in 1988. Whilst not reaching those dizzy heights, it’s still a worthy addition for any Holmes enthusiast.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars