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Saturday, December 15, 2018

A SLEUTH BY ANY OTHER NAME

A SLEUTH BY ANY OTHER NAME
Sherlockian pastiches are a tricky business. Purists hate them. They will, however, grudgingly make room for Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1933). This is mostly due to Starrett’s status as one of the founders of The Hounds of the Baskerville, a Chicago chapter of The Baker Street Irregulars.

For non-fanatical Holmes fans, Sherlockian pastiches fall into three categories—total dreck, acceptably entertaining, and brilliant. The largest classification is, of course, total dreck. There is something about the pull of Sherlock Holmes which draws in every tin-eared hack with a limited knowledge of the canon, or enthusiastic, but limited, scribes who produce plodding prose barely a step up from fan-fiction.

Most readers agree with the selection of those pastiches labeled as total dreck. The term Brilliant, reserved for very few Sherlockian pastiches, meet with general consensus. The acceptably entertaining classification, however, rages with diametrically opposed opinions.

A quick glance at the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads reveals an outpouring of either venom or simpering ecstasy for those Sherlockian pastiches eligible to be called acceptably entertaining. I mention this as your mileage may vary with regards to any recommendation I may make regarding Sherlockian pastiches.

Another problem for Holmesians crops up when a pastiche spawns a series in which the entries go from acceptably entertaining to total dreck from book to book. Earlier this year, I enjoyed the first two books in Brittany Cavallaro’s young adult series featuring Charlotte Holmes. However the third and fourth books in the series jumped the calabash.

I have also recently read A Study In Honor by Claire O’Dell. I enjoyed its futuristic, feminist twist on the Holmes mythos (featuring Janet Watson and Sara Holmes), but feel it was a one-off gimmick without much promise for a sequel. 

Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat gave us two brilliant seasons of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman playing Holmes and Watson. They then turned around and destroy the show in seasons three and four making it disappear up their own agenda driven sphincter.

For me Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu can do no wrong on Elementary, and HBO Asia’s Miss Sherlock has found its own niche. Having made these claims, I can hear rustling in the bushes of discontent as many other Sherlock enthusiasts want desperately to disagree with me. To them I say, “Brrrrrth!"

August Derleth’s Solar Pons stories can be found at the top of most Sherlockian’s brilliant classification. Essentially, Pons is a Holmes clone—a sleuth by any other name. Derleth wrote seventy stories featuring Pons. After his death in 1971, a further thirty-two Pons tales were transcribed by Basil Copper. Fourteen more stories were later scripted by David Marcum. All in all, Pons appeared in one hundred and eighteen stories, virtually double the appearances of the original Sherlock Holmes.

Like Holmes, Pons has prodigious powers of observation and deduction. He can astound his companions by telling them minute details about people he has only just met. Where Holmes' stories are recounted by Dr. Watson, Pons’ tales are narrated by Dr. Lyndon Parker. Parker and Pons share lodgings at 7B Praed Street in London. Their landlady is not Mrs. Hudson, but Mrs. Johnson. Holmes’ elder brother, Mycroft, has an irritating greater intellect. Solar Pons’ brother, Bancroft, is of the same stock. You get the idea.

I point this out in preparation to discuss The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series by Leonard Goldberg, which I personally place in the acceptably entertaining category. Goldberg is a bestselling author of medical thrillers, but here he turns his hand to historical mysteries with a cast of very recognizable characters.

Unlike Derleth, who simply renamed all the characters from the Sherlockian canon, Goldberg goes one step further, blatantly playing with the concept of inheritance. Utilizing the children of the original Holmes characters, Goldberg asks readers to accept these offspring would all go into the same professions or criminal malfeasance as their parents while having the same temperament and personality of older generation counterparts. Inspector Lestrade has much the same temperament and lack of acumen as his father; Mrs. Hudson’s daughter now keeps house at 221B; Sebastian Moran’s son, Christopher, has followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a doctor with the same dastardly criminal disposition; etc., etc.

This is definitely an impossible gobstopper to swallow for purists. It will even be rough going for many casual fans. Imagining lead character Joanna Blalock as the daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (given as a newborn to a good family after her mother's death in childbirth) takes even more leaps when it comes to the suspension of disbelief. 

Since I have no problem believing six impossible things before breakfast, I am happy to accept Goldberg’s story conceit despite its illogicalities. My position is helped by Goldberg’s abilities as an engrossing storyteller, utilizing an uncluttered style, which is fast paced enough to zip past any potential glitches. His affection for the original characters and his knowledge of the Sherlockian canon also helps me want to go along on this literary journey. 

Goldberg quickly introduces Joanna to the original Dr. John Watson and his son Dr. John Watson, Jr. Joanna is a trained nurse, a widow, and mother to a ten year old male prodigy—who is the spitting image of his celebrated grandfather at the same age. 

Gifted with an incredible intellect from both of her biological parents, Joanna also has a quality her father lacked, but her mother had in spades—charm and sociability. She's undeniably a force to be reckoned with—equal parts Sherlock and Irene Adler, and with an interesting backstory of adoption, marriage, and motherhood. 

Within a chapter or two, the trio become a formidable investigative team, using Joanna’s inherited deductive skills, and Watson’s medical knowledge, to unravel a murder at the highest levels of British society.

Perhaps I was simply in the mood for a touch of the Sherlock magic, but I found myself caught up in The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. My infatuation continued with book two, A Study In Treason. I have book three, The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth, in my to be read pile, wondering if the third outing will also be a charm or if the agents of darkness will derail the series.

THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
A new thrilling tale of the great detective’s daughter and her companion Dr. John Watson, Jr. as they investigate a murder at the highest levels of British society...Joanna Blalock’s keen mind and incredible insight lead her to become a highly-skilled nurse, one of the few professions that allow her to use her finely-tuned brain. But when she and her ten-year-old son witness a man fall to his death, apparently by suicide, they are visited by the elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming, handsome son, Dr. John Watson Jr. Impressed by her forensic skills, they invite her to become the third member of their investigative team...Caught up in a Holmesian mystery that spans from hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, Joanna and her companions must devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging familiar culprits, Scotland Yard, and members of the British aristocracy. Unbeknownst to her, Joanna harbors a mystery of her own. The product of a one-time assignation between the now dead Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outwit the famous detective, Joanna has unwittingly inherited her parents’ deductive genius.

A STUDY IN TREASON
A seemingly impossible mystery tests the keen mind and forensic skills of Joanna Blalock, the daughter of Sherlock Holmes and the heir to his unique talent for deduction...The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told...When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF
ALISTAIR AINSWORTH
The daughter of Sherlock Holmes faces a new unsolvable mystery with spies and a threat to the crown. Joanna and the Watsons receive an unexpected visitor to 221b Baker Street during a nocturnal storm. A rain-drenched Dr. Alexander Verner arrives with a most harrowing tale...Verner has just returned from an unsettling trip to see a patient who he believes is being held against his will. Joanna quickly realizes that Verner's patient is a high-ranking Englishman who the Germans have taken captive to pry vital information about England’s military strategies for the Great War. The man is revealed to be Alistair Ainsworth, a cryptographer involved in the highest level of national security...The police are frantic to find Ainsworth before the Germans can use him to decode all of England’s undeciphered messages. Ainsworth must be found at all costs and Joanna and the Watsons might be the only ones who can connect the clues to find him.

2 comments:

  1. Paul – For me it’s the A.C. Doyle originals. But the Pons stories sound intriguing enough to check out. As for the screen, yesterday at the movies my wife and I saw a preview of the Ferrell/Reilly HOLMES & WATSON, which we are going to avoid.
    And, BTW, your novel, LIE CATCHERS, is one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. I posted a review of it here:
    https://elginbleecker.blogspot.com/2018/12/lie-catchers-by-paul-bishop.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Elgin...I couldn't agree more about the new Holmes and Watson film...Even from the previews it looks like a hot mess of slapstick and moronic toilet humor...

    ReplyDelete

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