CIS: Beyond Conan Doyle – The best of Sherlock Holmes

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arthurconandoyle200Classic_Crime_150x150The Sherlock Holmes canon – those stories that were written by Arthur Conan Doyle himself – is composed of 56 short stories and four novels. There is enough material there to give people hundreds of hours of enjoyment – indeed they have been doing so for more than a century, and will most certainly continue to do so well into the future.

There are few enough stories for you to easily pick your favourites. My choices would be The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the short story The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. Conan Doyle himself picked 12 favourite stories for the Strand Magazine in 1927, including The Red-Headed League, The Five Orange Pips, and A Scandal in Bohemia.

If you love Sherlock Holmes and want more, however, there is PLENTY to choose from. Amazon UK lists over 7,000 Holmes-inspired paperbacks. The character is out of copyright so any writer can pick up where Conan Doyle left off – and thousands do. Some stick to the canon and attempt to nestle their works in between Conan Doyle’s output, and others try more adventurous approaches to the character.

Yes, there are aliens, vampires and zombies in certain Sherlock Holmes stories out there. However, there are also some fantastic reads which, though not written by Arthur Conan Doyle, are well worth your while if you’re a Sherlock Holmes devotee. We cannot claim to have read them all – not even the good folks at CrimeFictionLover are that dedicated – but here is our selection of some of the best out there.

Books from series

beekeepersapprentice100The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King
This is the first in the Mary Russell series, now up to 13 books, all of them set during the time of Holmes’ retirement to the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage girl whose keen intellect is a match for Holmes and reinvigorates his interest in detection. The author has used the series to examine important historical issues such as women’s rights and social justice in an intelligent way. Her portrayal of Holmes is most respectful of the original.
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sevenpercentsolution100The Seven-Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
The first of three pastiches from this screenwriter was also the most commercially and critically successful, becoming a bestseller and a hit movie. Holmes has his cocaine addiction successfully treated by Sigmund Freud – a common feature of pastiches is to have Holmes intrude on real people and events or vice versa – and then acts to prevent a war in Europe. Controversially the novel suggests Holmes’ battle with Moriarty was a delusion caused by the stimulant and that his anti-social side can be traced back to his parents.
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empressofindia200The Empress of India by Michael Kurland
This is the fourth in the author’s Moriarty series, which Titan Books is republishing. The series began with The Internal Device – an Edgar Award finalist – and we reviewed the most recent entry, Who Thinks Evil. The books are a dryly humorous account of the professor’s business interests and the bumbling Holmes’ attempts to interrupt them. Gold bullion is stolen from a ship en route from Calcutta to London, and since Moriarty is aboard, the British government suspects his involvement. Holmes is dispatched to investigate and disappears. Ultimately Moriarty is forced to solve what appears to be an impossible locked room mystery in order to protect his own interests. As the series progresses the books become kinder in their portrayal of Holmes, but the star of the piece remains very much his nemesis Moriarty. Such is the skill of Kurland that the parts narrated by Watson are identical in tone to those from the canon.
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Other novels

tasteforhoney100A Taste for Honey by HF Heard
This pastiche, co-incidently considered to be the first full length Sherlockian novel, is also a tribute to the Golden Age of British crime writing. In this case, Aston Clearwater seems a rural idyll but proves to be a living hell. It is the home of a crazed apiarist breeding killer bees. Fortunately for the village’s residents a certain Mr Mycroft has retired here from London to keep bees himself. The author died in 1971 without ever revealing which of the brothers Mr Mycroft was styled after. A loose movie adaptation followed, The Deadly Bees, which removed all mention of Mycroft for fear of provoking the Doyle estate.
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mandalaofsherlockholmes100The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years by Jamyang Norbu
Here, the Tibetan author gives an account of the Hiatus – that period between Holmes falling from Reichenbach and returning in The Adventure of the Empty House. Watson is replaced by Hurree Chunder Mookerjee as Holmes’ chronicler, a character first found in Kipling’s Kim. The novel is consistent with Conan Doyle’s limited description of the time that Holmes spent incognito as the Norwegian sailor Sigerson, and is a fascinating account of a particular period of history – The Great Game – as well as a successful mystery.
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sherlockholmesvsdracula200Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula by Loren D Estleman
This book served as my introduction to one of crime fiction’s best stylists. Estleman is best known for his modern day Amos Walker mysteries but this book is his best seller and has remained in print ever since its publication in 1978 – testament, no doubt, to the enduring popularity of its main characters, but also to the skill of Estleman. He places Holmes and Watson within Stoker’s narrative, initially to investigate the mystery of The Demeter that sailed into Whitby with only its dead captain strapped to the wheel, and then in to London to help Van Helsing hunt the count. The book is generally respectful to both literary legacies but perhaps takes a few liberties with Stoker’s timeline.
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italiansecretary100The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr
One of only a handful of Holmesian novels to have been approved by the Conan Doyle estate, the author was a logical choice given his own successful Victorian detective novels such as The Alienist. Holmes and Watson are dispatched by Mycroft to Holyrood Castle to investigate the strange deaths of two young men. Queen Victoria is in residence, her life is under threat and the tragic events of two centuries past might reveal a solution. The novel is notable for Carr’s storytelling skills and grasp of historical detail. It’s a novel that’s true to Doyle’s representation of Watson as a brave and dependable friend rather than the buffoon he is sometimes portrayed as by other writers.
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Graphic novels

sherlockholmesliverpooldemon100Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon by Matt Triano, John Reppion and Leah Moore
Just one of a number of Sherlockian titles from Dynamite Comics. Set in Liverpool, at around the time of The Sign of the Four, Holmes and Watson investigate murder down on the docks, where crime and the supernatural, in the guise of Spring Heeled Jack, appear to meet. The art has a suitably dark tone and the graphic novel format is particularly suited to a tale which emphasises Holmes’ physicality. Sherlock Holmes: Year One from the same publisher is also recommended.
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victorianundead200Victorian Undead I and II by Ian Edgington and Davide Fabbri
Conan Doyle might well turn in his grave at the thought of his great creation fighting an undead Professor Moriarty and his zombie army, but both these collections manage to deliver a thrilling romp without cheapening our hero. For the more traditional amongst us, Edgington has also produced a series of very well-received straight adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories with artist Ian Culbard for Self Made Hero books including The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear.
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Short story collections

newadventuresofsherlockholmes100The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin H Greenberg Ann Carol-Lynn Rossel Waugh
Sixteen short stories commissioned by the Doyle Estate including efforts by notable Holmes writers such as John Lutz, Edward Hoch and Loren D Estleman, which vary from the thrilling to light-hearted, and from traditional to those which take a few liberties. The standard of writing throughout remains very high, with the story by Stephen King, The Doctor’s Case, considered to be the pick of the bunch.
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shadowsoverbakerstreet100Shadows over Baker Street edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan
The theme to this collection is Conan Doyle meets HP Lovecraft, with many of today’s best writers of the fantastical penning stories pitting Holmes against the unknowable. Whilst it might rather ride roughshod over Holmes’ view of the supernatural, I can attest that this mash-up is far from a cynical cash in, and rather a superior literary achievement undertaken with due reverence to the literary legacies of both writers.
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Young adult

youngsherlockholmes100Young Sherlock Holmes 1: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane
This is the first of a popular series which has reached six novels and one short story collection. It is aimed at young teenagers and features a 14-year-old Sherlock investigating murder and other nefarious goings on at his Uncle’s home in Hampshire. This is one book on the list I can’t claim to have read, and whilst I am all for anything which encourages our kids to read, I can’t help wondering if it slightly redundant. At 14 I was reading, and enjoying, the original Holmes stories and cementing a love for crime fiction which would last me a lifetime.
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