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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.