Nice premise, mixed execution. Something for everyone.
Echoes of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R King and Leslie S Klinger, Pegasus Books, October 2016
368pp £18.99 (Hardback)
Also available as an ebook.
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton
In the wake of their award-winning Holmesian anthology In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (2014) comes a further collection of tales edited by King and Klinger, inspired by the works of Conan Doyle. Broader in scope than the earlier volume, Echoes presents 17 diverse stories from a mixture of authors known and less well-known. To be honest, I didn’t feel this volume was as strong as its predecessor. It has a solid core of strong, enjoyable stories scattered throughout, but there are a few weak ones whose inclusion may have owed more to the name of the author than to the strength of the stories. Also, there is less focus on the period and the art of deduction than on interesting characters and premises, particularly those revisiting the elder canon in some way. I did get the feeling that the stronger stories in this collection were positioned earlier in the volume, so to avoid that pitfall I looked at the stories in alphabetical order.
Tasha Alexander’s Before a Bohemian Scandal provides a prequel to the famous Scandal which focuses on Irene Adler’s experiences leading up to the famous case. An interesting take on the woman.
Dana Cameron’s Where there is honey didn’t sit so well with me. The scarce information provided in canon made the possibilities presented by this story fun as a premise, but it left me feeling that the core characters just didn’t ring true.
John Connelly’s Holmes on the Range is a humorous tale set in a sort of library of the literary afterlife which couldn’t help but remind me of the first ever Holmes parody by J K Bangs.
Deborah Crombie’s The Case of the Speckled Trout introduces Holmes’ goddaughter in an amusing tale involving a fish and a potential murder. Fun, but I tend to struggle with gender-flipped Holmes adventures with descendants (in this case Sherry Watson) and whatnot taking over the reins. Marred by my personal tastes, I’m afraid.
Cory Doctorow’s The Adventure of the Extraordinary Rendition was a story I was looking forward to, but which quickly disappointed. As a modern story inspired by Holmes it felt more like it was trying to be too clever for its own good, and fell a lot flatter than I had hoped for.
Hallie Ephron’s Understudy in Scarlet was an enjoyable take on both Irene Adler and the nature of American movie productions, taking the books remit seriously, and delivering because of that.
Meg Gardiner’s Irregular plumps for a modern day detective, but in doing so failed to capture either my interest or my investment in the character. Again, my personal tastes may be a barrier here.
William Kent Kreuger’s The Painted Smile takes us into the realms of child psychology, with a clever and very different spin on the identities of Holmes and Watson and their influence on us all.
Tony Lee & Bevis Musson break up the prose with a fun comic strip called Mrs Hudson Investigates. Sadly too brief to have much impact, although I do believe that more anthologies should sneak a comic strip in.
Catriona McPerson’s The First Mrs. Coulter explores the literary stirrings that Doyle’s writings evoke in a Victorian lady’s maid. Well enough told, but I didn’t feel like the target audience.
Jonathan Maberry’s The Adventure of the Empty Grave introduces a grieving Watson to none other than C. August Dupin. A clever reminder that modern Sherlockians enjoy their post-modern reflections.
Denise Mina’s Limited Resources again triggered my aversion to the gender-flip, with the rather odd Shirley.
David Morrell’s The Spiritualist cleverly explores Doyle’s spiritualist beliefs, which are challenged when he is visited by the ghost of someone he knows never existed… a good, strong interlude.
Anne Perry’s Raffa amusingly asks the question “what if a TV Holmes were approached to solve a mystery”, and doesn’t disappoint.
Gary Philips’ Martin X was a breath of fresh air which brings Holmesian inspiration to the funkadelic sixties, mixing up the rise of the civil rights movement with a very unusual spin on Sherlock Holmes.
Hank Phillippi Ryan’s The Adventure of the Dancing Women managed to just about overcome my aversion gender-flipping and absurdly-names descendants as Annabelle Holmes brought the Dancing Men up to date with text and emojis.
Michael Scott’s Crown Jewel Affair introduces us to an Irish bordello madam-turned-detective, but doesn’t give us enough room to really appreciate her.
In conclusion, the diversity is good, but it does make me feel that overall more stories miss the mark than hit it, which is a shame as there are some gems here.
Traditionalists may struggle in places, and some stories feel more like experimental fan fiction, but the collection emphasises just how much variety exists in the world, and that can only be a good thing. There is shipping, Mary Sueing, crossovers and game-playing aplenty, but ultimately that is what the book is about: embracing the many aspects of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, and reflecting the mix of modern audiences contrasting modern with period, personality with problem, postmodernism with tradition, and women with men.