Books: The Perils of Sherlock Holmes by Loren D. Estleman

I have a pretty extensive Sherlock Holmes library, and yet there's still so much out there I haven't read. There's almost too much Holmes to hope to keep up with it all. Point in fact, I had not read any of Estleman's work until this book was gifted to me, though his introductory essay touts his Holmes-Dracula and Holmes-Jekyll/Hyde novels. (The fact that his essay on "Channeling Holmes" is mostly used to promote his own work is a topic for a different discussion.) I do have, however, Fred Saberhagen's Holmes-Dracula File. If that counts for anything.

Given the nature of that opening essay, I suppose I should have been better prepared for almost every story in the anthology to be pairing Holmes with some other famous figure. This is apparently Estleman's preferred point of entry for writing Holmes. In this collection we get explorer Richard Francis Burton; Dickens' Tiny Tim all grown up; author Sax Rhomer of Fu Manchu fame; Wyatt Earp; and the Devil himself, kind of, maybe.

I get it. With all the Holmes literature (and film and television) out there, everyone needs a gimmick. An angle. This is Estleman's. And it's certainly fun to speculate on what it would be like for Holmes to meet other famous contemporaries, genuine or fictional.

Still, I found the stories themselves somewhat simplistic in nature. I remember commenting at one point that I felt I was reading at the Encyclopedia Brown level of Holmes stories. I couldn't see much about any of these "perils" (and there were hardly perils to begin with) to engage Holmes' mighty mind.

Twice Estleman takes a run at the supernatural: "The Adventure of the Three Ghosts" revisits Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes" is just what it sounds. Actually, the unfinished "Serpent's Egg" also had a supernatural bent. I wasn't convinced of Estleman's take on Holmes' behavior in these cases, his automatic dismissal of potential supernatural causes; as I recall from Doyle's "Hound," Holmes did not not believe in the possibilities, he simply preferred to eliminate all earthly options first. While "Three Ghosts" has an expected conclusion, "The Devil" is left purposefully amorphous and is on the whole somewhat unsatisfying. "Serpent's Egg" showed great promise—of all the tales in the book, it feels the most like a Doyle story—but as it is unfinished, it is difficult to judge.

On the whole the anthology is average but not strong. The tone is Doylesque, but lacks some of Watson's deeper writing, glossing in places where Doyle's Watson would be likely to go into meaty description. There is, as I've mentioned, such a wide range of Holmes apocrypha out there, from fantastic to abysmal, and this one falls squarely in the middle.

No comments: