Wed
Dec 28 2011 3:00pm

The Great Pastiche Game: Notable Non-Doyle Holmes Books

When I was 17 years old I obtained a copy of Nicolas Meyer’s The Seven-Percent Solution. I couldn’t have been more excited; a Star Trek writer/director taking on Holmes? Yes! And then I read the introduction from Meyer where he talked about digging up this lost manuscript from Dr. Watson and I was totally confused. Were Holmes and Watson real? I’d always thought they were fictional! At this point, the 1990s were barely hanging on, and the internet was just getting going, so I had to go through some actual books to figure out what the hell was going on.

And the truth couldn’t have been more delightful. Meyer was participating in a great game, one that has been going on for years, in which various authors pretend Holmes and Watson are real, and come up with creative and absurd ways of explaining “lost” Watson manuscripts. There have been a staggering number of Holmes pastiches in the past 100 years, all of which are much more than simple fan fiction. Here’s just sampling of just a few  you’ll probably love.

This is by no means a complete list of Holmes pastiches, but instead just a sampling of a few of my favorites. For the purposes of discussion, please, please list your favorite Holmes pastiches below!

 

The Seven-Percent Solution, The West End Horror, and The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer

In my opinion, in terms of matching the actual voice of Watson’s narrator of Holmes stories, Nicholas Meyer’s pastiches are probably the best. Meyer loves Victorian literature and the time period in which Holmes existed with such zeal that he manages to make each of his Holmes books into a mash-up. The Seven Percent Solution sees Holmes teaming up with Sigmund Freud, The West End Horror has him taking on a Jack the Ripper-esque mystery, while The Canary Trainer sees Holmes dealing with the real-life Phantom of the Opera. While The Seven Percent Solution is probably the best, I have a soft spot for The Canary Trainer as it takes place during the period in which Holmes is “dead,” features him playing the violin professionally, and the return of Irene Adler!

 

Good Night, Mr. Holmes and other Irene Adler books by Carole-Nelson Douglas

Speaking of “the Woman” the Carole-Nelson Douglas Irene Adler books present Holmesian-style adventure featuring one of the canon’s most popular characters. For the most part, the books are narrated by Irene Adler’s companion, Penelope, giving the text a similar perspective to the Doyle-penned Watson narrated stories. Good Night, Mr. Holmes also explains away the supposed death of Irene Adler by framing the book with a conversation between Holmes and Watson in which the former chides the latter on the use of the word “late” in describing Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” To date, there have been eight Irene Adler books written by Carole-Nelson Douglas. Not bad for a character who only appeared in one original Holmes story!

 

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye

It seems the notion of Holmes squaring off against Jack the Ripper is one concept various writers simply can’t leave alone, and Baker Street Irregular Lyndsay Faye does it splendidly with this 2009 release. Like Meyer, Faye is good at emulating the Watson voice, and the dialogue between Holmes and Watson in this one is fantastic. Faye is also and young, fresh voice to the whole Holmes pastiche action, and has a unqiue take on how much action should be in a Holmes adventure. Take a look at her primer for the new Guy Richie film over on Criminal Element.

 

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

More of a novella than a full novel, The Final Solution cutely dodges the problems of being a true Holmes pastiche by having the character go totally unnamed throughout the entirety of the narrative. In this book Holmes is a retired beekeeper brought in to consult on a case involving a parrot, which apparently contains the key to a secret Nazi code. Set in 1944, Holmes is an old man who is thoroughly devastated by the devastation he witnesses in London. This Holmes has been away from his former digs for long enough that the impact of the war clearly harms him emotionally. Though probably not intentional, this nicely references the old Basil Rathbone movie serials, which altered Holmes’ era to that of a WWII context.  Because Chabon is such a highly skilled writer with his own style, this hardly feels like Conan Doyle’s hand, but nonetheless is a fantastic, if bittersweet Holmes adventure.

 

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

Another delightful mash-up, albeit and unlikely one. Does the genre of westerns need to be combined with Sherlock Holmes? In this case, the answer is yes. However, it’s slightly less goofy than you might think, as the character of Holmes doesn’t technically appear. Instead, Old Red and Big Red are simply just big fans of Sherlock, and as such Old Red starts applying his “deducifyin” skills to mysteries cropping up around the ranch. More of a comedic pastiche than a serious one, Hockensmith’s book will keep you smiling. A lot.

 

Sherlock Holmes in Orbit by Mike Resnick and Martin Greenberg

Though John Joseph Adams’ The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes contains perhaps a more compressive collection of science-fiction themed stories, Sherlock Holmes in Orbit was a unique anthology insofar as all the stories in it were written specifically for it and the result is a clear labor of love. The stories in Sherlock Holmes in Orbit are divided into the following categories: Holmes in the Past, Holmes in the Present, Holmes in the Future, and Holmes After Death. My favorite of these stories are the ones which deal with out-and-out science fiction stuff like “Two Roads, No Choices” by Dean Wesley Smith, or “Holmes Ex Machina” by Susan Casper. The former features time travel and alternate universe action involving the Titanic, while the latter has a hologram Holmes helping a filmmaker solve a minor mystery. Through and through, Sherlock Holmes in Orbit represents the ideal crossroads of science fiction and the great detective. Some of the more famous stories in here were republished in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, too!

For more on Sherlock Holmes in Orbit and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, check out this article I did for Clarkesworld back in 2010.

 

Muppet Sherlock Holmes by Patrick Storck and Amy Mebberson

While not exactly required reading, this Holmes pastiche deserves a mention if only for it’s cleverness. A four-issue comic book series from 2010, Muppet Sherlock Holmes features the Great Gonzo in the role as Holmes (remember when he was Dickens?) Fozzie Bear as Watson, Kermit the Frog as Inspector Lestrade and Miss Piggy in various other roles, including Irene Adler! Each story is loosely based on an original Conan Doyle Holmes tale, but usually in name only. The series is fun, owing mostly to Mebberson’s awesome art. She slips in a lot of side gags for people who are not just fans of Holmes, but other stuff too. In the first issue Lovett’s Meat Pies can clearly be seen opposite of 221-B Baker Street. There’s a reference to Torchwood on Gonzo/Sherlock’s ID card, and in another turn which references the Doctor Who universe, Kermit/Lestrade hides inside of a Victorian-era police call box. Adorable and fun, it’s a shame these comics weren’t turned into short films or a TV mini-series.

 


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com.

This article is part of Holmes for the Holidays: ‹ previous | index | next ›
20 comments
Leslie S. Klinger
1. Leslie S. Klinger
Many Sherlockians regard "The Unique Hamlet," by Vincent Starrett (incredibly rare in its original printing but often included in anthologies) as the finest pastiche ever written. Probably in second place is Richard Boyer's "The Giant Rat of Sumatra," available here http://www.amazon.com/Giant-Rat-Sumatra-Richard-Boyer/dp/1562870335 and at various specialty bookstores.
Leslie S. Klinger
2. rxa
Let me add "A Night in the Lonesome October" for another Holmes and Jack the Ripper pastiche, though they both remain unnamed and play secondary roles to Jack's dog. It is a thoroughly delightful romp - something to read aloud on Halloween.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
If you're going to mention the Irene Adler booky, then a shout out should also go to Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, starting with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. They start sometime after Holmes' retirement and are very well done.

One might also mention Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman, which also brings in Professor Challenger to face the Martian threat.
Paul Weimer
4. PrinceJvstin
The Holmes-Dracula file, by Saberhagen is a favorite of mine.
Leslie S. Klinger
5. Fenric25
To add to this list, there's also one of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels from the mid 1990's that deals with Holmes and Watson as real people alongside the Seventh Doctor and his companions Ace and Bernice Summerfield. The novel, titled "All-Consuming Fire," is pretty good in the first half but then turns a bit strange as the story heads to India and then to a world that is not at all a rip-off of H.P. Lovecraft. Just thought I'd mention it-Doctor Who has also had Sherlock references in the TV series, most notably the Fourth Doctor wearing the deerstalker cap and cloak, etc, in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with the characters Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot being somewhat like Holmes and Watson, IMO...
Leslie S. Klinger
6. Commonlaw504
Meyer's "The West-End Horror" had nothing to do with Jack the Ripper. Just saying.
Leslie S. Klinger
7. AlBrown
Before this examination of Arthur Conan Doyle's work ends, I hope you will give some consideration to some of his non-Holmes works, which are wonderful. The adventures of Professor Challenger for example. Not to mention Sir Nigel and The White Company. Conan Doyle was definitely not a one-trick pony!
Leslie S. Klinger
8. Barb in Maryland
Well, I see DemetriosX beat me to the punch in mentioning Laurie R King's Mary Russell books. I find them wonderful. And I never could get into Carole Nelson Douglas' Irene Adler books.
The Holmes on the Range series is just a delight; thank you for mentioning it.
Leslie S. Klinger
9. Tehanu
The Firesign Theatre recorded an album titled "The Giant Rat of Sumatra," which they (not Richard Boyer) wrote, starring Hemlock Stones, the Great Defective, and his sidekick Dr. Flotsam. It's one of their lesser works but it's pretty funny.
Steve Taylor
10. teapot7
Holmes makes a small but notable appearance in _The Unicorn Girl_ (*) one of a trilogy of lighthearted and silly hippy SF novels. The protagonists, who come from our world, and who have come unstuck in time and space, meet him and Watson at an inn on the way to Dracula's castle, and after only a few minutes of conversation he deduces not only that they come from another world, but that it is a world in which he is a fictional character.

He is, of course, unflappable, and doesn't hesitate to believe that which is left once he has eliminated the impossible. It's minor, but it's very Holmes.

(*) or it could have been in one of the other two books in the series - _The Butterfly Kid_ or _The Probability Pad_ - I'm not sure at this distance.
Leslie S. Klinger
11. Matthew Carpenter
For tentacle fans, of course, one must not forget Shadows Over Baker Street (ISBN 13: 978-0345452733), published in 2005 in paperback by Del Rey, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. Check out the TOC. Quite an author list:
A Study in Emerald - Neil Gaiman (Won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story)
Tiger! Tiger! - Elizabeth Bear
The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger - Steve Perry
A Case of Royal Blood - Steven-Elliot Altman Narrated by H.G. Wells The Weeping Masks - James Lowder
Art in the Blood - Brian Stableford
The Curious Case of Miss Violet Stone - Poppy Z. Brite, David Ferguson
The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece - Barbara Hambly (Thomas Carnacki is one of the main characters)
The Mystery of the Worm - John Pelan (Dr. Nikola also appears)
The Mystery of the Hanged Man's Puzzle - Paul Finch
The Horror of the Many Faces - Tim Lebbon
The Adventure of the Arab's Manuscript - Michael Reaves
The Drowned Geologist - Caitlín R. Kiernan
A Case of Insomnia - John P. Vourlis
The Adventure of the Voorish Sign - Richard A. Lupoff
The Adventure of Exham Priory - F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Death Did Not Become Him - David Niall Wilson, Patricia Lee Macomber
Nightmare in Wax - Simon Clark
Ryan Britt
12. ryancbritt
@1 Thanks! Also, I'm very honored you're checking out our little theme week!
@6 Right. Of the three, it's the one I've re-read the least recent. Good call.
@Everyone- All great suggestions! We all now have more to read than ever before!
Ryan Britt
13. ryancbritt
@7
Well, we are calling it "Holmes for the Holidays" and not "Doyle." So some of that might have to wait. However, I am cooking up a Lost World article for my Genre in the Mainstream column. Look for that soon-ish! :-)
Paul Howard
14. DrakBibliophile
Sterling Lanier's "A Father's Tale" is a telling of the adverture of the Giant Rat of Sumatra with an unnamed Holmes and Brigadier Ffellowes's father.
Leslie S. Klinger
15. tony2
Let's not forget "The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes," published by The Council of Four in 1960.
Leslie S. Klinger
16. Kipling
You missed "The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes" by Jamyang Norbu.
Leslie S. Klinger
17. Chris Stabback
What, no love for Stephen Fry's short story?
Leslie S. Klinger
18. filkferengi
Don't forget _Druid's Blood_ by Esther M. Friesner, an alternate Britain in which Holmes analogue Brihtric Donne has to use deductive reasoning to solve mysteries related to druids and magic.
Leslie S. Klinger
19. a-j
Chris Stabback@17
Good call. Forgotten that one!
Charming Christmas homage to the great detective and others.
Leslie S. Klinger
20. Tim Symonds
My Sherlock Holmes novels are mpore in the 'classic' Doyle style (latest below) than Guy Ritchie's Sherlocks - who would readers think should play a classic rather than all-action Holmes in a present-day movie?


Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughterby Tim Symonds

Based on a true event in Albert Einstein's life. In late 1903 Einstein's daughter 'Lieserl' disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in the Mystery of Einstein's Daughter, "the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, Einstein's friends, followers, relatives and relatives-by-marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?"

‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ ScientistFrederic Golden Time Magazine



Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughteris available at www.mxpublishing.co.uk/engine/shop/product/9781780925721 or www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Mystery-Einsteins-Daughter/dp/1780925727. Review copies contact Steve Emecz at mxpublishing@btinternet.com.

First review, from Serbia: http://inserbia.info/news/2014/01/sherlock-holmes-and-the-mystery-of-einsteins-daughter-review/


Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and Guernsey. After several years working in the Kenya Highlands and along the Zambezi River he emigrated to the United States. He studied in Germany at Göttingen and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science. Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter was written in a converted oast house in 'Conan Doyle country', near Rudyard Kipling’s old home Bateman’s in East Sussex and in the forests and hidden valleys of the Sussex High Weald.
The author’s other detective novels include Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle and Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Bulgarian Codex.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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