Excellent premise and execution. Let’s see if we can get an interview to follow.
Associates of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann, Titan Books, August 2016
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton
In recent years Titan Books have established themselves as the premium publisher of Sherlock Holmes books. While their line of reprints has occasionally been questionable, their modern retellings have been largely successful ventures, capturing the spirit and enthusiasm of fans, and reminding us that Holmes is as effective a brand as any modern phenomenon, be it Doctor Who or Star Trek.
Associates of Sherlock Holmes is the third such anthology edited by George Mann, with a fourth volume – The Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes – in the works. I will not, however, treat this review as one of the third in a series, but rather as a stand alone book.
The premise is a simple one – these are short stories told by people who appeared in the canonical adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as such they are character studies which flesh out the sparse detail recounted in Doctor Watson’s narratives, bringing an extra dimension to the world in which the Great Detective resides.
These tales do not always place Holmes as the centre of attention, not should they, but instead they give us to see he and his methods through the eyes of different observers, many of whom will be familiar to the followers of the original Holmes.
There is the one weakness to this volume – that without some knowledge of canon you may not be tempted to read this book. It is a real pity, because not knowing the characters is far from problematic – each tale stands alone and can be enjoyed without any specialist knowledge.
If, however, you do happen to be a Sherlockian, then this volume is one of the best examples of ‘the game’ that I have seen in recent years, with each tale crafted from the clues laid down by Conan Doyle in a manner reminiscent of a Baring-Gould or a Dickson Carr.
For those who are Sherlockians, my reviews makes advance mention of the associates in each story – not to spoiler you but rather to provide an aide memoir that might help you choose this volume over others, because it is very much worthwhile.
The River of Silence by Lyndsay Faye starts the game by reintroducing Inspector Stanley Hopkins from The Adventure of the Black Peter, revealing his origins and his place in the great detective’s affections.
Pure Swank by James Lovegrove makes some clever deductions concerning Barker, Holmes’ hated rival on the Surrey Shore who appeared in The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.
Tim Pratt’s Heavy Game in the Pacific Northwest sees a Holmes-free hunting trip through the eyes of Colonel Sebastian Moran, henchman to Moriarty and the principal villain of The Empty House.
Jaine Fenn’s A Dormitory Haunting reintroduces The Adventure of the Copper Beeches‘ Miss Violet Hunter in her later years as the head of a private school, proving that Holmes’ faith in her capabilities was well-placed.
Ian Edgington’s The Case of the Previous Tenant sees Inspector Baynes of the Surrey Constabulary (from The Adventure of the Wisteria Lodge) come to the rescue.
Set in Paris, Cavan Scott’s Nor Hell a Fury brings A Scandal in Bohemia‘s Irene Adler into a new controversy that might change the way readers look at Holmes and Watson forever.
Andy Lane’s The Case of the Haphazard Marksman is recounted by Langdale Pike (from The Adventure of the Three Gables) who regales us with the details of a new and untold case for Holmes.
Jonathan Barnes brings to life The Adventure of the Creeping Man‘s afflicted scientist, Professor Presbury, in a tale of espionage, obsession, and the deeper consequences of his original appearance in The Presbury Papers.
Willie Meikle chooses Holmes’ undercover assistant, Shinwell Johnson, who gave assistance in The Adventure of the Illustrious Client and other untold tales, as the protagonist of A Flash in the Pan, a story that might involve a little photography along the way.
In The Vanishing Snake, Jeffrey Thomas reacquaints Holmes and Watson with Miss Helen Stoner in a direct sequel to The Adventure of the Speckled Band.
Simon Bucher-Jones’ A Family Resemblance brings us an account of a conversation between the brothers Holmes and Moriarty from the memoirs of Mycroft Holmes himself.
Kara Dennison’s Page Turners provides us with a glimpse into the life of Holmes’ most overlooked of assistants, Billy the Page.
Finally, Nick Kyme’s Peeler tells of a rather gruesome case which may well have been the last time Holmes, Watson and inspector Lestrade worked together.
While there is not a clunker among them, I can honestly say that I enjoyed all but one of these thirteen tales, and I shall not single it out for negative attention, because each story has a different approach and different strengths, each of which will perhaps appeal to a different kind of reader.
My one regret is the list of authors – they feel drawn from a common stable, and I’ve seen some of these writers time and again in books of this kind – I do enjoy their work immensely, but some more names wouldn’t go amiss in future volumes. A mix of fresh blood and of pastiche writers from the past would be ideal – there are plenty of great pastiche writers out there who could do with some acknowledgement in a mainstream publication.
I would, paradoxically, also like to have seen a story by the editor himself. That or at the very least a proper foreword. George Mann is an accomplished writer of Sherlockiana, and I always like the opportunity to see what an editor has in mind when he puts together an anthology. That said, it is good to see a sequel is already in the works. I look forward to it.