Monday, January 4, 2010

sherlock holmes

One week, a few weeks ago, I had no new library books to read. I always have my quota of 10 books lined up in "Holds" but nothing new had come up. Rare.

I've read most everything I own several times, so I started to troll through some of John's books. He has a complete Sherlock Holmes so I thought I'd read them over. I read the introduction first, by a fella who is really into his Holmesian mythology. I was intrigued by some of the detail he pointed out so I went a-hunting for some info.

In my search, I discovered that there were several authors who picked up where Conan Doyle left off. I had already read Michael Chabon's "The Final Solution" and found to to be my favorite of the five books of his I read in a frenzy last year.

But there were so many more! Heady stuff.

I read Michael Dibdin's "The Last Case of Sherlock Holmes", which was a yawn. I really expected it to be more exciting as it dealt with Holmes investigating Jack the Ripper. Ripper winds up being Moriarty and he and Holmes do take that tumble off the Reichenbach Falls but it's his death with no resurrection. I thought that taking a great criminal mind and turning him into a butcher (with the excuse being that Moriarty needed to take this next step basically because he was bored) was dulling. I was hoping it would be Watson unmasked as the Ripper. Dibdin should ask for a do-over.

The re-mythology is far more interesting. Arthur Conan Doyle is a friend of Watson and, after much pleading, gets the doctor to persuade Holmes into letting ACD (how he is referred to in the book) publish one of his exploits using Watson's written recollections. All the "embellishments" that Holmes criticized Watson for in the actual stories is now laid at ACD's feet. It was pretty funny.

And, although Holmes dies at the end, it's ACD who "resurrects" him using cases from before his death. Watson mourns his friend until his own death many years' later. This story is only "uncovered" in the 1970 because Watson left instructions that it be opened 70 years after his death.

The novel promised far more than it delivered. I really wanted it to be Watson.

Then I moved on to Laurie King. What a difference. Technically, her series of books involving Holmes is "young adult fiction" and here's why.

In 1918, a retired and now beekeeper Holmes, literally stumbles over a 15-year-old Mary Russell. He has one conversation with her and discovers her gift for observation are as keen as his and he takes her under his wing. The obvious adventurous hi-jinks follow.

But it is a great read. I've read the first of the series, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" and could not put it down. King also employs a wonderful device in which she, the author, writes in the introduction that she has received a huge package, sender unknown, containing many mysterious bits, bobs and trinkets, as well as pages and pages of some kind of manuscript. She has no idea why she was sent these items but realized the pages are recounts of exploits by Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. She does some cosmetic rewriting, puts sequences into chapters and sends it off to her publisher. Eight books follow.

I went into Barnes and Noble and had a looky at the nine books. To say I am intrigued is an understatement. Russell has her own backstory: she winds up Holmes' neck of Suffolk to recover from surgeries sustained from a car accident in which her parents and younger brother were killed. She believes she caused the accident and has nightmares about it. I discovered that more is revealed about her past in later books and I had to leave B&N because I couldn't buy them and I might have sat right there and read them all. Thank goodness of the New York Public Library!

And I also have Paul Gilbert's "The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes". He tries hard to copy Conan Doyle's style and, so far, brings nothing new to the table. Jeffery Deaver included a case in his "More Twisted" short story collection, told from the criminal's perspective. It is my favorite one so far.

I've also read that people wrote books where Holmes meets Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mary Poppins. I think I'll be giving those a miss.