A dozen established and up-and-coming authors invite you to view Doyle’s greatest creation through a decidedly cracked lens.
Read about Holmes and Watson through time and space, as they tackle a witch-trial in seventeenth century Scotland, bandy words with Andy Warhol in 1970s New York, travel the Wild Frontier in the Old West, solve future crimes in a world of robots and even cross paths with a young Elvis Presley…
Sherlock Holmes. He’s the ubiquitous detective; the first of his kind and a continual inspiration for modern creators. While I’ve read many of the short stories, both for pleasure and for classes, my favourite incarnations are the more recent ones — Robert Downey Junior in the recent Guy Ritchie films and Johnny Lee Miller in the TV show Elementary. They are more gritty, less refined versions of this Victorian detective, unlike the more gentlemanly versions of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. A collection of stories centred on reinterpretations of this iconic character and his companions will always be defined by the area of tension between retaining the classic Holmesian characteristics enough to keep it recognisably a Holmes tale and by giving it a unique spin and an author’s own flair and flavour. In my opinion, Moore and his contributors have reached a wonderful balance between these elements in the stories contained in Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, though perhaps a true Sherlock Holmes aficionado, who is more invested in the character, might disagree.
If one looks at the line up Moore has put together, it’s interesting to see that of the fourteen tales, nine have been penned by women; this female majority perhaps says something about Moore’s editorial choices, but it could also be considered a reflection of the huge fandom that surrounds Sherlock Holmes, a fandom that is seemingly overwhelmingly female if one goes by the fandom encountered on Tumblr. The line up also runs across the genres sheltered underneath the speculative fiction umbrella: fantasy, SF, and horror. And these influences return in all of the stories, mixed with the requisite mystery to solve of course. It makes for an interesting mix and shows that genre mash-ups should be embraced, not feared.
The classic Holmesian tropes and elements suffuse the stories and there are certainly iconic elements and lines that keep popping up, such as the non-canonical, but oft-quoted “Elementary, my dear Watson.” The recurring core set of characters has some surprising appearances, with Mrs Hudson showing up far more often than Irene Adler or Moriarity. This surprised me at first, but of course Mrs Hudson is far less defined and detailed than Moriarity and Adler. I also liked how the authors shifted some of the details to the time their story was set in. For example, Watson is always a veteran, but in these stories his service ranges from the Great War to Afghanistan. Of course some stories stuck with me more than others. The stories discussed below were my favourites.
Kaaron Warren – The Lantern Men
Set in Warren’s homeland Australia, The Lantern Men is a haunting ghost story, featuring Holmes and Watson as an architect and a builder, professions that are both unexpected and work unexpectedly well in this tale. I really liked the concept and the horror of the Lantern Men; the fact that their true origins remain nebulous only make them creepier. Warren’s Sherlock, while still peculiar, is far more socially capable than his original predecessor, a fact I enjoyed especially since he is also the narrator for the story.
Emma Newman – A Woman’s Place
I expected to enjoy Newman’s tale as she’s one of my favourite authors, both long and short form, yet A Woman’s Place managed to surprise me and I absolutely loved this story and its close focus on Mrs Hudson and the dynamics between her and Holmes and Watson. Set in a future where we are all constantly connected via a neural implant, Holmes’ eccentric nature has given him an aversion of the technology and he is one of the rare non-connected people around. He is a classic Holmes, though his Watson is a woman, yet she does inhabit Watson’s classic template. Newman creates a complex and devious plot in her story, using all of her words to further this wonderful story.
Guy Adams – A Study in Scarborough
I only recently discovered Guy Adams’ writing through his Clown Service series, which I’m really enjoying so far. So finding a story by him in this anthology, and one of the longer ones at that, was a pleasant surprise. I really liked this rather meta-like tale, where Holmes and Watson the crime fighters where figments of the imagination, the subjects of a radio show written and performed by the actors Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I liked this conceit and the tale Adams has his narrator, Arthur Doyle, uncover was both scurrilous and tragic.
Glen Mehn – Half There/All There
While I’m familiar with some of Andy Warhol’s iconic art, the scene that surrounded him was unknown to me. With his Half There/All There Glen Mehn has shown me a bit of what it was like. His versions of Holmes and Watson are wonderfully imagined and fit the setting and epoch well. Watson’s having turned into a pill-pusher after injuring his shoulder in Vietnam has stopped him practising as a physician was an inventive twist on both Watson’s past as a soldier and the wounds he suffered there and his medical background. There is also an underlying sadness and wistfulness to the connection between Holmes and Watson that I found compelling and very touching.
Gini Koch – All the Single Ladies
Anyone who read that title and didn’t immediately have Beyonce running through their head has been hiding under a rock for the past few years. And it’s exactly that sort of playful referencing of today’s pop culture that made this story such fun. Set in the midst of a reality show on the campus of a women’s college, featuring a female Holmes and a less-than-enthusiastic Watson, Koch’s All the Single Ladies is pure entertainment. While Koch’s Sherlock is just as observant and incisive, not to mention sharply witty, she isn’t as cutting or acerbic as many other Holmes’ are — she seems warmer, and frankly more fun to be around. This tale had me smiling from start to finish.
With Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets David Thomas Moore has delivered a great anthology filled with entertaining takes on Holmes and Watson. In his introduction to the book Moore quips that sadly there aren’t really two hundred and twenty-one stories in the book, but I have to confess, I’d gladly have read another fourteen stories if they were as entertaining as the ones contained in this volume. As mentioned above, Holmes purists might have a hard-time with these numerous different takes on the Great Detective and his closest friend, but for anyone with an appreciation for Holmes that isn’t so strict, this is one collection of tales that shows how broad and versatile the field of speculative fiction can be.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.