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Sherlock Holmes in Books – the Long and Short of It

IN THE December 31 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andDeborah Harter Williams,
andMysteryrat's Maze

by Deborah Harter Williams

It’s been a bumper season for Sherlock Holmes fans with a new movie, new BBC-TV series, a new novel featuring Holmes himself, and a book of short stories “inspired by” Holmes. He also makes appearances in two other books where he ably assists Mary Russell.

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz is the first Holmes novel authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate. The award-winning creator of Foyle’s War takes to his task with verbal brio and a visible appreciation for the characters. The plot revolves around a reminiscence of Watson’s, after the death of Holmes, about a case that was “too shocking to reveal until now.”

The descriptions eloquently set the mood and tone for the adventure:
“The fog, thick and yellow, was unfolding through the streets, deadening every sound. Vile, it seemed, like some evil animal snuffling through the darkness in search of its prey.”

And he revels in Holmesian brotherly repartee:
“‘My dear Sherlock!’ Mycroft exclaimed as he addled in. ‘How are you? You have recently lost weight, I notice. But I’m glad to see you restored to your old self.’
“‘And you have recovered from influenza.’
“‘A very mild bout. I enjoyed your monograph on tattoos. Written during the hours of the night, evidently. Have you been troubled by insomnia?’”

The story turns chilling as Holmes finds himself in prison, framed by malevolent forces that neither LeStrade nor Mycroft have strong enough influence to combat.

The Pirate King

Laurie R. King’s latest outing for Mary Russell aka Mrs. Sherlock Holmes has her off the Moors and onto the high seas as she makes her way from England to Lisbon to Morocco. Working undercover as the assistant to the producer of a film about the making of the Pirates of Penzance, Russell keeps track of actresses of all ages, shapes, sizes, and as it turns out, genders as she tries to ferret out gunrunners, smuggling plots and her own kidnapping. And then she encounters real pirates.

It’s a madcap caper with pirates, poets, movie-making and a little Gilbert & Sullivan thrown in. Holmes will show up (in disguise of course) and play a few choruses on his violin as they plot a way to save the cast and put everything to rights.

King has a great humorous time with her Pirate King and Mary Russell once again shows the folly of underestimating a young Englishwoman or more particularly, this young English woman. A nice break from the somewhat dour events of the last couple of books, King delivers her operetta/film/mystery in high style.

A Study in Sherlock is an anthology of Holmes-inspired short stories, edited by Laurie R. King and Les Klinger, with an introduction by John Le Carre. Everybody gets a chance to channel their inner-Holmes with contributions from Thomas Perry, Lee Child and S.J. Rozan as well as Margaret Maron, Alan Bradley and Jacqueline Winspear.

One of my favorites was “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman, which involves Holmes with a Chinese beekeeper. Charles Todd proposes a conceit in which the fictional Sherlock Holmes character is being sued, much to the amazement of his creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Phillip and Jerry Margolin have fun with “The Adventure of the Purloined Paget” – a piece of artwork from Doyle’s original illustrator.

Not all stories feature Holmes himself, but rather characters using Holmesian tactics, like Laura Lippman’s “Last Adventure of Sheila Locke-Holmes” or Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak story “The Eyak Interpreter.” Chetwynd cloaks his detective in military garb and Lee Child offers up an FBI agent sent to London in “The Bone-Headed League.”

King also offered this year an e-novella called Beekeeping for Beginners. This offers Holmes’ version of his meeting with Russell covering some of the same ground as in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but from a differing point of view. It is a compelling enticement to read the whole series.

If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to rb@robinburcell.com or cindy@cindysamplebooks.com.

Deborah Harter Williams works as a mystery scout, seeking novels that could be made into television. She blogs at Clue Sisters and was formerly a mystery bookstore owner.

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