Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes

The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Paul D. Gilbert, published by Robert Hale, 2008.

This collection is the second by the author, following The Lost Casebook of Sherlock Holmes last year, and marks a definite improvement and maturation of style. Mr Gilbert’s Holmes and Watson are the creations of Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke rather than Conan Doyle, but given the great popularity Brett brought to the Great Detective, his characterisation may be a strength rather than a failing. Regardless, the author’s enthusiasm for Holmes shines through in a remarkably original collection.

All seven of the stories are based on Watson’s references to Holmes’ unrecorded cases, and the titles are worth noting for enthusiasts: Baron Maupertuis, The Remarkable Disappearance of James Phillimore, The Affair of the Aluminium Crutch, The Adventure of the Abominable Wife, The Adventure of the Cutter ‘Alicia’, The Adventure of the Red Leech, and The Mystery of the Mumbling Duellist. Mr Gilbert has been brave enough to attempt two of the most notorious of Watson’s references, and takes the unprecedented step of intentionally linking The Adventure of the Red Leech and The Mystery of the Mumbling Duellist.

The idea is inspired, and not only provides a smooth segue from one to the other, but also reminds us that Conan Doyle either had his tongue firmly in his cheek, or simply forgot how similar the references were. Mr Gilbert’s red leech is in fact Holmes’ client, a man named Crosby who suffers from the skin condition known as solar urticaria, and whose brother is missing. The mumbling duellist is Isadora Persano, who has been driven mad by the bite of a South American worm. Holmes investigates his attempted murder.

Well worth the read for anyone who enjoyed either Conan Doyle’s originals or the Granada TV series. I wonder if Mr Gilbert is daring enough to attempt the Dundas Separation Case in his next collection? For those who don’t remember, this was the gentleman who “…had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife…” (from A Case of Identity). Tongue in cheek indeed!

A cautionary note: Hale's choice of title is unfortunate, as it creates confusion with Denis O. Smith's series, The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, published by Calabash Press from 1997 to 2002. I'm not sure if they're still in print, but Mr Smith's work is a rare treat, and all four volumes reward the effort of tracking them down on the secondhand market.

Rafe McGregor

1 comment:

Nik said...

Dr Watson's many and varied hidden chests of letters/stories about Holmes must number in the hundreds by now. In a way, it's like Tarzan - he kept stumbling over lost cities in Africa; here, authors keep stumbling on another secret box of Holmes material... All great fun. I'm also fond of a number of pastiches, especially Solar Pons by August Derleth. Then of course there's the late Michael Dibdin's extraordinary work, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, which doubtless split the Holmes community... but of course it was far from the last one. Thanks for another splendid overview of another Holmes book.
Nik Morton (Ross Morton)