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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years

Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years edited by Michael Kurland. New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2004. ISBN: 978-0312-31513-9

As all Baker Street Irregulars know, for three years after the infamous struggle between Holmes and Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Dr. Watson thought the good Sherlock was dead, and mourned his erstwhile friend. Holmes preferred to let him (and the rest of the world) think it so, until he miraculously returned to the land of the living, claiming to have

"traveled for two years in Tibet . . . passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum . . . [and] returning to France, spent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a laboratory in Montpelier, in the south of France."

Here, then, is a collection of “new” tales about the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, written by a variety of authors, each purporting to describe one of the adventures of Holmes during these three years unchronicled by the indefatigable Dr. Watson. The stories vary widely in quality and believability, naturally, depending on the talents of their various authors.

Certainly my favorite among them is the story by Peter Beagle of A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn fame. In it, Holmes is traveling under his nom de plume of Sigerson, the Norwegian, who seeks out a position as first chair among the violins in the Greater Bornitz Municipal Orchestra in the town of St. Radomir, in the Duchy of Bornitz, in the country of Selmira, one of the lesser-known principalities of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In all of Dr. Watson's tales, it was never entirely clear to me as to just how competent a violinist Holmes really was. Certainly his skills never seemed to much impress the long-suffering Dr. Watson. But here, at last, we learn that Holmes was quite skilled indeed, single-handedly raising the musical aspirations of this small-town orchestra. While there, Holmes, in concert with the original concertmaster, and acting conductor, who narrates the tale for us, naturally has occasion to solve a mystery. Would that all the stories had the same charm and originality as this one.

Two of the other authors see fit to strike poor Holmes with fits of amnesia. We see Holmes in the Himalayas, the Kingdom of Siam, San Francisco, Alaska, New Orleans and even New York City. The Siam and San Francisco stories are particularly effective, involving as they do, local detectives who react interestingly to the opportunity to work with Holmes.

Some of the other stories are less effective. Especially hard to swallow is the story in which Holmes is miraculously transplanted to a parallel universe in which he, not Professor Moriarty, is killed in the fall from Reichenbach Falls, and Holmes has to thwart Moriarty's plans, well in progress, at taking civilization into a path towards evil world domination.

And the final story, involving Holmes working together with a host of other comic-book heroes, including Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, The Avenger, John Carter, and even Tarzan, is ultimately shown to be nothing more than a cosmic kind of joke.

Still, all in all, a collection worth perusing for the Holmes fan who just can't get enough, and is always looking for new Sherlock Holmes tales to amuse. Semi-enthusiastically recommended for just such a reader.


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