The same box which brought me the complementary copies of my own novel also contained three other works, by fellow MX authors, of which I shall give you a brief account.
Dan Andriacco’s “Baker Street Beat” is a slim volume of Holmesian writings of various kinds. The stand-out piece here is the excellent pastiche, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden”, which is very much in the manner of the original stories. I also enjoyed the time-travelling play “The Wrong Cab”, in which a modern American private eye becomes Holmes’s partner in a grisly mystery set in the Chamber of Horrors; and “Reichenbach Pilgrimage”, which gives a good account of what there is to be seen at the second most famous place in the Canon.
I have to take issue with Dan over his essay on “Writing the Holmes Pastiche”, however, since his rules would disallow any Holmesian fiction not written from Dr. Watson’s point of view, containing real historical characters, and having the word “Case” in the title! They are good enough rules if one is trying to produce an exact imitation of the original stories, I suppose; but some of us want to do something new with the beloved characters. For my part, I thought that it would be interesting to see Holmes at work without Watson, but instead trying to build a partnership with someone very different, to whom he could show another side of his personality; and I think that it comes off rather well, in my novel, when circumstances oblige him to team up with the young Aleister Crowley.
Gerard Kelly’s “The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes” is a very good imitation of Conan Doyle’s style and methods; the master himself would have been proud of some of these ingenious plots, and the characterization of Holmes and Watson is for the most part unobjectionable. As someone who has been doing a good deal of research into late Victorian manners and customs, however, I was aware of a few anachronisms, which might not disturb the common reader – the most annoying, to me, being Holmes’s extensive knowledge of the “Helvetica” typeface, which was not invented until the 1950’s. Also, there is a real ghost in one story – something that even the spiritualist Sir Arthur would not have allowed in the Sherlock Holmes universe. But people who like the Sherlock Holmes stories, and wish there were a few more of them, should certainly buy this book.
“Barefoot on Baker Street”, by Charlotte Anne Walters, is something very different. It is a hugely ambitious novel, which even describes itself as “epic” at one point. It tells us that, throughout the whole Canonical history of Holmes and Watson, there was another person present: a feisty criminal redhead who was intimately involved with both of them – and indeed with their enemy, Professor Moriarty.
The quality of Ms. Walters’ prose is… variable. To my mind it gets somewhat better as the novel goes on. Purist Holmesians will dislike this book for the liberties that it takes with our hero’s character, and indeed with his physical appearance – since Ms. Walters gives him, for some reason, eyes that are “perfectly brown, [of] a deep rich shade, full of intensity” (when everyone knows that Holmes’s eyes were grey). Students of the period might find it annoying that (for example) the heroine is said to be wearing a “bra” decades before such garments were in use.
But pedants such as myself are not really the target audience for a book such as this; it is aimed rather at a female readership that has for centuries delighted in the exploits of anti-heroines like Moll Flanders, Becky Sharp, and Scarlett O’Hara; and such readers may well enjoy the tumultuous adventures of the ruthless, sexy “Red”. It strikes me that this might make rather a good film. Directors take heed!