Associates of Sherlock Holmes

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

378pp £7.99

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.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Part Two)


Following on from our interview with Paul Kane, we can now present our review of his novel.

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris July 2016

384pp £7.99

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

Servants of Hell is a book of two parts, the first being the intrusion of the Hellraiser mythos into the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes and the second bringing characters from that world into the dark and bloodlit corridors of that part of Hell that is the Kingdom of the Cenobites. But readers should not expect to meet Pinhead or the creatures of the films – being set 18 years before the Great War, those familiar faces are if a later generation, allowing Kane to establish a very different Order of the Gash.

The first part of the book draws us into the world after Holmes has returned from the dead to a less than certain relationship with Watson. The demons that haunt the Great Detective threaten to consume him. Paul Kane plays the Sherlockian game well here, shaping the post-Reichenbach world into one which spins so many of those shadowy elements of Sherlock Holmes continuity into a sturdy web that launches Doyle’s heroes into a series of connected cases where the impossible cannot be eliminated.

There is, however, little detective work on display. It simply isn’t that kind of story. The trail of clues is so easy to follow that Watson gets to take the lead for a change, but beyond this the novel instead dwells upon the characters – on how Holmes is consumed by his obsessions while Watson, plagued by bereavement and the return of his friend, cannot help but be foolishly heroic, even in the absence of a decent plan.

That is the book’s one failing for me. Not quite so much for Holmes, whose single-mindedness makes his path inevitable, but for Watson there is a little too much steamrollering for my liking – most of his actions are shaped by the actions of those around him, and I was left feeling that he had no volition of his own throughout the story. In the first part it was simply a character flaw, but being separated from Holmes and forced instead to follow the path chosen by his hellish guides felt a little too simplistic for my tastes. Perhaps this is a result of the author juxtaposing the tropes of horror – and of the Hellraiser mythos in particular – against the traditional format of the the Holmesian mystery. Something has to give, and with the defeat of Moriarty behind him Holmes is in desperate need of a new obsession…

For this reason, upon passing into the second part of the book, I felt myself wishing more and more that Servants of Hell were a graphic novel, with so many cameos and characters (some new, some drawn from the Holmes canon, and others drawn from The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser and from the Hellbound Hearts anthology by Kane and his wife/co-editor, Marie O’Regan) coming and going that the pace quickened to that of a pulp novel, and the visceral images being described were screaming for a storyboard artist to convert them into visuals. It would also make one hell of a nineties horror movie.

As a story based in part upon the works of Clive Barker I was finding myself drawing more comparisons between Cenobite society and Barker’s other army of grotesques, the Midianites of Cabal/Nightbreed. For Barker fans there are Easter-eggs aplenty, mostly unobtrusive and woven well into the fabric of the story. I shan’t spoil them here because, unlike in Holmes fiction where subtle facts are added as part of the ongoing game, they add to the wider tapestry of Barker’s creations. 

For Holmes fans the lack of mystery and the descent into the realms of the supernatural might be discomforting, but it is clear that great care was taken in placing the story so that its consequences reach both backward and forward across the canon, addressing many of those off-the-page mysteries beloved of the avid fan.

With the exception of a possible sequel, it certainly feels as if Servants of Hell is presented as Holmes’ one and only supernatural venture, which is as it should be. In fact, it is Holmes’ ability to accept what he sees as real that enables him to quickly come to terms with what he finds, and who he must overcome; and while Watson is no buffoon, I did find myself struggling to accept his character to quite the same degree.


I thoroughly enjoyed Servants of Hell – it was a fun, quick and unputdownable read, but I can’t help thinking that it draws much more from the cross-over comics phenomenon than from the literary or even cinematic. Epic comics did Pinhead vs. Marshal Law a few years ago, and I can’t help thinking that Servants of Hell should be adapted as the first of a new series of crossovers, with Alien, Batman, Conan, James Bond, Judge Dredd, Predator and a dozen other franchises queuing up to appear in the next volume.


The Irregulars Present…

  

So, last Christmas, before we launched our blog the Sherlock Street Irregulars took over Southcart Books for a day of Sherlock Holmes readings. And we are doing it again…

A book was sort of launched, and as well as experiences Sherlockians we had some writers who were embracing pastiche for the first time. It was fun, and I got to air my Christmas story, Sherlock Holmes and the Smoking Pope, and much enjoyment followed.

Now it’s time for our second foray, which Southcart has again agreed to host, on September 19th.

It’s a hard time of year to secure speakers – the last straggling cons are happening, the last family weddings are being crammed into the late season, and Doctor Who is returning to our screens. And everyone who likes Sherlock Holmes seems to like Doctor Who.

Sadly that includes the author we were hoping to coax along, Andy Lane, who will instead by at Big Finish Day talking about their adaptation of his Holmes/Doctor Who crossover novel, All-Consuming Fire, which has been adapted for audio by Guy Adams, whom we had also hoped to coax along on account of being a writer of Holmes stories and the man who wrote the foreword to the book we are launching, Vallis Timoris.

Yes, a book launch, plus a bit of pre-launch goodness for Constance & Robinson’s Adventures Moriarty, edited by Maxim Jakubowsky, and for MX Publishing’s three-volume set of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, edited by David Marcum.

That’s Saturday, 19th September 2015, starting at 11.00am until 4.00pm.

Names and times will be updates as they become available.

Sherlock Holmes. 221b Baker Street (2013)

Russian_Sherlock_Holmes_2013

In 2013, shortly after the tragic death of one of it’s stars, Andrey Kavun’s Sherlock Holmes TV series was broadcast. After the success of its highly popular 1970s predecessor, the eight part series had a lot to live up to, and despite being a reimagining of the Victorian Holmes, it seems to have succeeded… 

Heavily inspired by the Guy Ritchie film version (in spite of being announced before that had even been made), 2013’s Russian Sherlock Holmes TV series is, quite literally, a shot in the arm. Evoking the same gritty imagery seen in shows like Deadwood and Ripper Street, there are only occasional lapses where Russian cultural influences bleed into the show. With only on postmodern exception (where Holmes gives the name Basil Rathbone as a pseudonym), the script gives us a new but plausible take on Holmes. Imagining what he might be like from Watson’s perspective as a neighbour – before  his tales have passed through the filter of a written account, and editor, and publication in The Strand magazine.

The first episode (and the others) is available on youtube.

Much is made of Watson’s time in Afghanistan – a telling point of commonality between Britain and Russia, both then and now – and the account described in the introduction is subtly different in a way that promises to explore it further (in the following episode, no less).

Watson_2013

Watson himself is brilliantly portrayed by the late Andrei Panin (who sadly died from a head injury before post-production of the series was completed) as an intelligent, if a little lost, man of action, whose return from military service leaves him alone and in need of a friend. His meeting with Holmes is very different to tha seen in A Study in Scarlet, bringing them together in the midst of a case which can best be described as a portmanteau episode in which The Adventure of Black Peter has elements of A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton thrown in.

Watson is very clearly set up as the protagonist (with Holmes as the agonist), and the character is better served than in any version I have previously seen, taking a little of Holmes’ invincibility and transferring it to the doctor by making him the great detective’s boxing tutor. This slight shift has a fantastic impact on the dynamic between the two men, making them more like partners than master and apprentice.

Holmes_2013

Holmes, played by Igor Petrenko, also gets a makeover, looking more like the character of Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment than the deerstalker (or even top hat) wearing Holmes. This, and his favouring of spirits over tobacco, show Holmes to be a younger man than Watson, and in need of just a little friendly restraint. His deceitful side is also less constrained, giving an altogether more human aspect to the character.

The other regulars – Lestrade and Mrs Hudson – are similarly made over. the former seems quite intent on treating Holmes as the villain, whilst adopting perhaps the most unconvincing costume of the show. Mrs Hudson, meanwhile, is gloriously described by Holmes as being ‘nasty’, and seems more attractive and respectable than we are used to, whilst the introduction of other lady lodgers keeps us guessing which of them is the landlady.

The mystery itself cracks on apace, and is well-structured so that the clues are readily apparent and almost incidental to the action. This works well, setting up a wonderful boxing sequence which goes to show that you don’t need the cinematic trickery of Ritchie to pack the action in.

A lot has been made of Russian cultural context elsewhere. Certainly the friendship between Holmes and Watson is more physically explicit than contextually implicit, but that works well for TV these days. Where the cracks occasionally show is in costume – Holmes and Lestrade’s sartorial choices notwithstanding, those Russian costumiers really do struggle with the shape of the old British policeman’s helmet, and uniforms in general (I definitely spotted a Russian sailor drinking in a London pub), but if feels authentically Victorian, although there are moments where a modern Russian perspective on the attitudes of the British Empire isn’t quite in keeping with a native’s viewpoint.

Still, it is an enjoyable and engaging drama, and the first episode – at 90 minutes – is enough to make you want to binge-watch the remaining seven.

ADRIAN MIDDLETON

Sherlock Holmes the Next-next-next-next-next-next Generation

Our latest guest blog comes from journalist and podcast producer, Paula Berinstein of The Writing Show. Also California-based, Paula talks to us about the first book in her Young Adult detective series, which introduces us to Sherlock Holmes, the next-next-next-next-next-next generation…

Amanda Lester cover

…or to be more accurate, G. Lestrade the next-next-next-next-next generation.

Amanda Lester, the twelve-year-old protagonist of my book Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy, is descended from Inspector Lestrade and couldn’t be more embarrassed. The man was a twit and everyone except her parents knows it. They think Lestrade is the bee’s knees and want their daughter to follow in his footsteps, but she wouldn’t be caught dead being a detective. She is a filmmaker extraordinaire. So when they send her to a secret school for the descendants of famous detectives in the English Lake District, it’s no wonder she freaks out.

Now you wouldn’t think an idiot like Lestrade would make for the most dynamic reading, but here is my secret: buffoon or no, he exerts way more influence than he should, and that is what Amanda fights against. Her greatest fear is that people will find out they have the same genes and she’ll never be taken seriously. And of course, when she goes to the school where everyone is related to a great man or woman, her fear nearly becomes hysteria. Now that’s an obstacle for a protagonist to contend with!

Of course Amanda isn’t the only modern descendant of a Doyle character I torment, er, bring to life. Despite the fact that Professor Moriarty assumes a major role in just two Holmes stories, he looms large with fans. So of course Amanda will have to tangle with his progeny. Oh, did I say Holmes? My bad. There is no Holmes in this story, only the shadow of the great man, which drives Amanda nuts. It isn’t until the next book in the Amanda Lester, Detective series, Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis, that we meet his descendant, and boy, does she hate him. Anything to do with Holmes reminds her how her parents keep shoving her ancestry down her throat. It doesn’t even matter whether the kid is nice, competent, or intelligent–she hates him and doesn’t care who knows it.

You may want to know why I made Amanda a kid. The truth is that at first I didn’t. She was supposed to be a young woman rebelling against her upbringing. Despite her family’s academic bent, she’d be a plumber, and she’d become enmeshed in a mystery when she found a body under a house where she was working. Alas, I couldn’t make her interesting enough. Even I was bored with her. But when I lit on the idea of making her a tween, a whole world opened up and I couldn’t stop writing.

But is that the real reason I made Amanda a kid? Not really. Amanda is a kid because I am–at heart. I started reading mysteries when I was a wee bairn, with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and the Bobbsey twins, and yes, Holmes, for I did read him as a child. And I loved him and he got into my blood and he’s still running around in there, strong as ever. I love him so much that I want others to love him too. He’s just so much fun! So if I can make that happen by writing stories about a tween who hates him, and if I can do just one tiny thing to get kids reading, I will be a happy woman.

Oh, and if you will indulge me, I’d like to make one last point before I go. There has been much speculation about what the G in G. Lestrade stands for. It should be obvious that it’s George, for after all, George is the name of kings. Greg indeed. Who came up with that one anyway?

Paula Berinstein

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis, the second book in the Amanda Lester, Detective series, will be out on September 15, 2015.

Paula  2015Author, the Amanda Lester, Detective series, www.amazon.com/Amanda-Lester-Pink-Sugar-Conspiracy/dp/0986030481/ref=sr_1_1

Web: http://www.amandalester.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaLesterDetective

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pberinstein (@pberinstein)

“Academic, dear Watson.”

Our second guest blog comes from the fingertips of California-based author Farah Shaw, talking to us about her Sherlock Academy series, which draws on much Sherlockian history, bringing what we may be familiar with to a new, and we hope appreciative, audience.

image

When Rollie and his best friend Cecily are invited to attend a school where children learn the art of detection just like the great Sherlock Holmes, they discover a strange burglary has been committed and a mystery is afoot. Determined to investigate, Rollie discovers that appearances can be deceiving, the truth can be hurtful, and friends sometimes turn into foes.

I am the author of the new middle-grade mystery Sherlock Academy out by Future House Publishing. My book is geared for readers 8-12, and any Sherlockian for that matter. At eighteen chapters and 204 pages, it is a good book for bridging the gap between early chapter books and longer middle-grade novels.

I became an avid Sherlockian when I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s entire Holmes collection in junior high. I developed my first literary crush on Holmes, and continued an unwavering devotion since. A few years ago when I was searching for the next children’s story to write, I heeded the old adage: write what you know. Furthermore I followed the more important adage: write what you love. And Sherlock Academy was conceived.

I am often asked the reason I write, and more specifically, the reason I wrote Sherlock Academy. While there is a myriad of reasons ranging from philosophical (I write so my soul will stay alive), to personal (I write because I have stories to tell), to practical (I write to have an excuse to leave my two kids and go to Starbucks), the main reason I wrote Sherlock Academy was the following: to create the next generation of Sherlockians.

In the world of Sherlock Academy, Holmes, Watson, all the other supporting characters, and all their cases are real. While they do not appear in my book (for the year is 1931, and these figures have long been gone), my book is peppered with Sherlockian references and facts, so readers new to Sherlock Holmes will learn about him and his history, and old fans will enjoy the Sherlock tie-ins.

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Sherlock Academy is the first book of what will be a 5-book series, and is available on Amazon in hardcover and ebook, and in select Barnes and Nobles and Costcos. Book 2 is due for release in early autumn. Please visit http://www.sherlockacademy.com for more info, and feel free to email me questions and comments at sherlockacademy@yahoo.com. I am also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sherlockacademy) , Instagram @sherlockacademy, and Twitter @sherlockacademy.

For more great middle-grade and YA fiction, check out Future House’s other new titles at http://www.futurehousepublishing.com

A Study in Sourcery: Michael Kurland

Moriarty Kurland

This seems like as good a place as any to talk about one’s Sherlockian influences – beyond Conan Doyle, of course. I first discovered Michael Kurland in the 1970s. I’d picked up a worn copy of a book called Transmission Error all about a teleportation gone wrong. It was one of my first experiences of postmodernism in fiction, being poignant, funny and surreal all at the same time.

When that sort of thing happens the name sticks in your memory, and I next saw Michael’s name attached to Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy. For those who are unaware, Lord Darcy was a sort of fantasy Sherlock Holmes from an alternate, magic-using Earth. Created in a novel (Too Many Magicians) and featuring in two short story collections (Murder and Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates) by Randall Garrett. The baton passed to Michael in the late 1980s when, after a bout of encephalitis put him into a coma for eight years, Garrett died. He wrote two Darcy novels, Ten Little Wizards and A Study in Sorcery, and it was the latter book that bought him back to my attention, introducing me to Darcy and, very soon after, to Kurland’s earlier novel, a Holmes pastiche starring Professor Moriarty – The Infernal Device. Its sequels – and other Holmes-related books – appeared sporadically over the years, and as they only appeared to be available in the US, I was aware of them but never succumbed until, to my surprise, all four of his Moriarty novels were acquired and published by Titan in 2014.

Kurland inverts Moriarty, making him the central character of his adventures – a mirror of the Holmes we know and love with his own amanuensis in the form of the journalist, Benjamin Barrett. Consulting criminal, scientist and investigator whose past history with an interfering, paranoid Holmes sparks a series of fast-paced adventures which cast the not-quite-so-evil professor in a very different light.

Subversive, knowing, and thoroughly steampunk before K W Jeter (and later Cassandra Clare and Philip Reeve – you can’t keep a good title down) ‘pinched’ the title and coined the phrase, it was perhaps my hazy recollection of Kurland’s first Moriarty novel that drew me towards my own interpretation of the professor (not quite so amenable, but just as radical). I have a lot of catching up to do.

Michael Kurland

The Moriarty Novels:

Others:

MX, Undershaw and the Guinness Book of Records

You may have spotted a recent article in the radio times, doubtless inspired by the success of the Sherlock TV series and the patronage of its writer, Mark Gatiss.

http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2015-07-15/largest-ever-collection-of-new-sherlock-holmes-stories-will-raise-money-to-restore-conan-doyles-house

A little about Undershaw. The house was designed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and built so that he could look after his ailing wife, Touie, who was suffering from tuberculosis at the time. Living there for ten years – from 1897 until 1907 – he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles while in residence, along with the stories that made up The Return of Sherlock Holmes. After a number of uses, the house fell into the hands of property developers, whose plans appalled many fans of Doyle and Holmes, and the Undershaw Preservation Trust was established in 2009 to protect it from exploitation. This pressured the developers into selling, and although the local Borough Council declined to step in, it was acquired last year to restore it as school – Stepping Stones – for children with hemiplegia, anxiety, and autistic spectrum difficulties.

Concerning the books.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories started, I believe, as a single volume of stories written to raise funds for the Undershaw Preservation Trust. There are some impressive Sherlockian names attached to the project – Molly Carr, Michael Kurland, Andy Lane, James Lovegrove and Bonnie McBird, to name but a few – and it has blossomed into a three volume series of canonical short stories told in chronological order.

By virtue of its size, the book qualifies as a mammoth piece of Sherlockiana, capturing a veritable cornucopia of stories from many contemporary Sherlockians. Released in November, it promises to be one of the must-have collections of the year.