Encapsulate the book in one sentence? Its Holmes, Jim, but not as we know it. Okay, tell me more. A selection of tales (14, not 221) of Sherlock Holmes unbound from setting and genre, with stories that veer from direct transpositions to more oblique versions probably best described as ‘in the Holmesian tradition.’ Did you finish it? Did it work for you? I finished it in the dead days between Christmas and New Year, and for the most part, yes it worked for me. Anthologies almost by their very nature are difficult beasts: too much of the same, and you get bored, and too eclectic and there are inevitably stories not to your taste. With that in mind, it had a particularly high hit-rate, without a single story that I didn’t like, and an impressive batch of stories that I loved.
My highlights were: A Scandal in Hobohemiaby Jamie Wyman. This opens the collection, putting Holmes in a dustbowl carnival. Compared to later entries this is pretty light on mystery, but is abundant in atmosphere, and we all know I’m a sucker for a circus. The Lantern Men by Kaaron Warren which forsakes the detective genre entirely for a creepily effective American-Gothic horror story. A Study in Scarboroughby Guy Adams.* A sly homage to classic radio comedy, and is both knowing and funny. All The Single Ladies by Gini Koch. A gender-swapped Holmes and some barbed swipes at American reality television. Entertaining and satisfying. Parallels by Jenni Hill is hands down the stand-out for me, and closes the collection. Holmes and Watson are reincarnated as fanfiction-writing schoolgirls, and is sweet, funny and meta as hell. Bonus points for the various fan-fiction excerpts which are so pitch-perfect I’d happily read more of those on their own.
If I was being very picky, my only complaint about the collection is that it could have strayed further from it’s starting point. Setting itself up as genre-bending Holmes, there is a sense that there are further reaches the stories could have gone (with no slight to the quality of the stories that are there.) For example, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s story is secondary-world fantasy which is inventive, but is the only story that escapes the bounds of Earth in the last 300 years. I’d have quite liked more of this wilder invention; the bizarrer interpretations of Holmes are often my favourites.
Is it available today? The book was released in 2014 from Abaddon books, so you should be able to track it down in bookshops or online. (Also, as a point of interest, Emma Newman’s story ‘A Woman’s Place’ won Best Short Story at last year’s British Fantasy Awards.)
(*Side note: like the proverbial buses, having not come across Guy Adams before, I’ve been deluged with him all week. Someone gifted me The Clown Service for Christmas, and then a few days later I saw him announced as a writer for the final series of my beloved Confessions of Dorian Gray. On the strength of ‘A Study In Scarborough’, I have high hopes for both.)