The West End Horror

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I am, of course, looking forward to the next series of Sherlock. Bizarrely, I’ve not seen the current big screen adaptations. I think I might be so far down the rabbit hole of non-canonical Holmes that I’ll never return.

The West End Horror
Nicholas Meyer
(Coronet, 1977 edition)

Meyer is considered one of the better non-ACD Holmes writers, in part because The Seven Percent Solution brings makes explicit Holmes’s drug addiction. And in part because he nails Watson’s voice.

The West End Horror is a check list of late Victorian theatre. George Bernard Shaw hires Holmes to solve a murder in the West End. Then a chorus girl at the D’Oyley Cart is killed, bringing in Gilbert & Sullivan. Oh, and there’s Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Ellen Terry as well.

The overall plot is enjoyable, with some horrifying scenes played out with just the right sense of Watson holding back whilst trying to be as honest as possible. But that checklist is the problem – whereas the use of Freud in The Seven Percent Solution is integral to the plot, this reads like name-checking. Of course, the London theatrical world was – and is – small. A murder investigation will connect to some of the most famous people of that time. But it feels more fannish than previously, as if the desire to have Holmes meet X is greater than the desire to write a good Holmes story.

Still, it’s an enjoyable one, and worth getting for any Holmes fan.

My Sherlock Holmes

Friday, 15 October 2010

Ah, Sherlock.

No, wait, not Moffat and Gatiss’s modernisation (although that was brilliant). The Victorian/Edwardian original.

My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective
ed. Michael Kurland
(St Martin’s Minotaur, 2003)

This collection of short stories uses any narrator except Watson as its selling point. There are stories as told by the first and second Mrs Watson, by Mrs Hudson, by Irene Adler, by Captain Moran and, of course, by Moriarty.

First, a point of pedantry. I know the book is American but any Americanisms by English characters really pops me back out of the story. So “diapers” instead of “nappies” (in a bit told by Doctor Mortimore from Hound of the Baskervilles). And “underclassmen” instead of “undergraduates” in a story set during Holmes’ time at Cambridge. The writers and readers of this book can cope with obscure stuff like gasogene lamps so using the right English isn’t too great an ask.

Onto the stories themselves. Despite not being narrated by Watson, a lot stick with a broadly similar voice as if Watson has become the generic template for ‘cod-Victorian’. I’m picking out the ones that stood out for me (for good or bad reasons).

Mycroft’s Great Game, by Gary Lovisi, attempts to tell the story leading up to Holmes and Moriarty’s confrontation at the Reichball Falls from the point of view of Mycroft. There were several flaws with this. The typos (“undo” instead of “undue” etc) should have been picked up in the editing or proof-reading. The repetative elements, in which Mycroft repeatedly tells us the same thing, are more annoying. A short story is one form where words shouldn’t be wasted. Unless it was an attempt to suggest Mycroft was a bore? By filling in scenes into an existing, canonical story, though, it read too like bad fanfiction.

The Adventure of the Celestial Snows, by George Alec Effinger, is more egregious though. It has Fu Manchu in the Forbidden City yet was still a struggle to read. Far too much of the story was taken up with exposition from one of the characters about Fu Manchu, and far too little was shown.

There are two epistolary stories side by side, Cabaret aux Assassins by Cara Black and A Study in Orange by Peter Tremayne. The former is an enjoyable romp through Paris, as told by Irene Adler. The latter again suffers from poor proof-reading: the italicised letter from Colonal Moran is embedded in a story written by Watson but after the letter concludes and Watson restarts, the italics continue…

Mrs Hudson Reminises, by Linda Robertson, is one of the more radical in form, using the magazine interview format to tell the story of how Holmes helped Mr Hudson. This one is a delight, with a clearly different voice covering familiar ground.

Years Ago in a Different Place, by Michael Kurland, is the only story to really blast away the ghost of Watson though. Moriarty tells how he first came to know Holmes back in Cambridge. He also issues legal threats at anyone repeating Watson’s libels against his person. This story really creates a distinctive voice for the Professor as well as a neat, plausible early case for Holmes.

Overall, this was a really mixed collection but worth it for fans of non-canonical Sherlock.


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