The Dissecting Room . . . July 1994
Three Evenings - Three New Holmes Books
Sitting on my desk as I write this is something I have not seen in a very long time: three new books of Sherlock Holmes by American publishers. As I rarely special order pastiches, such books only come into my possession if I see them in a bookstore or someone gives them to me. This being the case, I haven't had a stack of pastiches like this ready to read since the 1970's. And I even passed up buying Nicholas Meyer's The Canary Trainer, too.
The three books on my desk will all soon be attempting to hit that lofty mark of capturing the true essence of Holmes. Will they succeed? Probably not. Pessimistic, I know, but many before them have tried and failed. They have to try, though, and I have to let them. With that, the games begin.
Saturday night, 10:40 p.m. I start reading book one, Fred Saberhagen's Seance for a Vampire. In the seventies, Saberhagen wrote my favorite of the Holmes/Dracula books, and I'm curious to see how he fares with another round of the detective and the count.
Suddenly, I'm back in the seventies again. Although the title and cover of Seance for a Vampire have absolutely nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Watson still tells most of the tale, and Holmes still has a starring
Sunday afternoon, 3:30 p.m. Having finished the Saberhagen book, I move on to
Uh-oh. James Phillimore disappears in the same manner he did in a story I read years ago, for much more obvious motives. Holmes doesn't appear in the second story until the ninth page. Footnotes unnecessarily remind me of well-known Canonical events. Halfway along, I expect Holmes to start injecting the cocaine at any moment -- he has to be bored. I certainly am. Holmes battles white slavers, and I hope things are picking up. But then follows a series a burglaries at English country houses and a semi-sequel to "Bruce-Partington Plans." Consider something for a second. Politicians, lighthouses, and trained birds are all rather tedious in their way. What happens when you combine all three? I think I've just found out.
Having decided that The Secret Files or Sherlock Holmes should really be entitled The Rejected Manuscripts of Doctor Watson, I move on.
5:40 p.m. Monday -- I begin Laurie R. King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Ms. King is the first in this series not to attempt Watson's own prose. Her narrator and Holmes companion is a fifteen-year-old, half-American girl. Others have taken this route and failed as often as those who mimic Watson. I read onward.
And within fifteen minutes find myself wanting to clap my hands with glee. I think she may be on to something here. Thirty pages into the book, I am fairly amazed. Holmes is once more smarter than I am! His teenaged sidekick is pretty quick as well. The author fits a touch of revisionism in without causing a ripple in the otherwise smooth flow of the book, and I decide to finish off this column and give this book a leisurely read at the savoring pace it deserves.
How might King have succeeded where Saberhagen merely passed and Thomson failed? She is clever, talented, and confident in her grasp of Holmes. Nothing else matters. Admittedly, Saberhagen did pull off a decent Watson, and Thomson tried hard for an authentic reproduction of the whole, but it's for Sherlock Holmes that I read these books. The rest is window dressing.