The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
You enjoyed the blockbuster re-imaginings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective (as played by Robert Downey, Jr.), even if director Guy Ritchie stretched canon a bit. You TiVo’d a few episodes of Elementary on CBS, re-reading some original Doyle works for comparison, and now you can’t wait for Benedict Cumberbatch’s return for Season Three of the acclaimed BBC series Sherlock in a couple months.
What to do in the interim?
The Baker Street bookbinders at MX Publishing have your remedy. Several of them, actually—in the form of several new Sherlock tales by of today’s best mystery writers.
A Sherlock fan since childhood, engineer/ author / Holmes collector David Marcum has furthered the tradition of the world’s greatest detective with The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, a two-part collection of tales purportedly derived from forgotten case notes left to the author’s aunt by Sherlock’s companion / scribe, Dr. Watson. Marcum admits that he, like Doyle, worked up the manuscripts during a lull between jobs, but “discovering” Watson’s musty journals in the attic of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted aunt is a more compelling explanation for the existence of these taut new yarns.
At nearly 200 pages each, the Papers walk us back up the seventeen steps at 221B Baker Street to the flat shared by Holmes and Watson. We revisit with Mrs. Hudson and other beloved personalities like Inspectors Lestrade and Hopkins, and Sherlock’s well-connected aristocrat brother, Mycroft. Marcum’s spanning nearly three decades, from the mid-1880s through the early 1910s. Marcum’s new narratives occur before, between, and sometimes even in tandem with the events chronicled in the Doyle canon, giving fans fresh perspective on the famous sleuth’s alleged death, resurrection, and semi-retirement.
Holmes was apparently a very busy dead man during the three years following the incident at Reichenbach Falls, and never relinquished his Baker Street flat despite some time living apart from Watson. Accordingly, readers are made privy to the partnership between detective and doctor as the men mature from their 40s into their 60s and confront 20th-century concerns such as the fallout of the American Civil War and overtures to World War I.
Marcum’s handling of Doyle’s iconic characters respectful. He has fun playing with them and prodding them in directions Doyle probably never dreamed, but he doesn’t tweak them, either, allowing their mannerisms and eccentricities to stand. Sherlock (a sexagenarian in many of the stories) is warmer than we remember—his heart somewhat softened by advancing age and renewed ties with old family and friends—but he’s still scrupulous and crafty when the game’s afoot. Holmes still sees things everyone else misses, conceals information he doesn’t think others need to know, and outthinks his opponents with a satisfied smile. Watson, who’s buried three wives by the end Volume Two, remains a trusted confidante and able-bodied military man who spent a lot of time writing his escapades with Holmes for The Strand while the detective was away. A moratorium is placed on further publication when Sherlock pops up and hails the doctor to accompany him on new journeys throughout England, and overseas—to America.
Each of Marcum’s vignettes can be easily digested in a single sitting. Indeed, their brevity—coupled with the protagonists’ rejuvenated spirits—reminds this reviewer of the speedy sleuthing of younger investigators, like Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown, J.D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain, and Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys, all of whom owe debt to Doyle’s detective.
“The Adventure of the Least Winning Woman” finds Holmes caught up in the competition between two rival messenger firms after taking a case on behalf of a former client’s son-in-law. Surveillance of an especially ugly woman who mysteriously assumes control of one company leads to discovery of gambling debts owed to French smugglers. Writing about the investigation, Watson fondly remembers meeting Holmes at St. Bart’s Hospital years earlier. He’s also given a peek at the future when an interviewee reveals plans for a telephone answering service.
An ex-constable needs Holmes’ help after being arrested for a coworker’s murder in “The Adventure of the Treacherous Tea.” Inspector Lestrade believes the case is cut and dried, but Holmes knows there’s a big difference between accidental food poisoning and the deliberate adulteration of someone’s Earl Grey with lethal doses of strychnine. “The Singular Affair at Sissinghurst Castle” sends Holmes and Watson to Kent to check into the trespass of an old estate by a treasure-hunter from Cleveland, Ohio. Legendary prisons, underground tunnels, and a vicious killer from the 1500’s called the Bloody Baker return to haunt our heroes, whose persistent probing unearths a skeleton with a nasty head wound.
“The Adventure of the Second Chance” starts with Watson recalling a chance meeting with a repentant Moriarty henchman just prior to the missing horse-cum-murder investigation depicted in Doyle’s “Silver Blaze.” Realizing he can’t undo his past crimes, Tom Morgan begs Holmes to use his influence to help his artistically-inclined son stay on the right path. Fast-forward twenty years, and Holmes is summonsed to help Morgan’s boy—now an expert forger with a murder rap—make peace with his counterfeiting past.
Holmes and Watson turn Ghostbusters in “The Haunting of Sutton Castle” when a client hires them to scope out the paranormal activity occurring in an abandoned residence he hopes to convert into a school. Skeptical of specters, the Sherlock plies his pickpocket skills to thwart a murder, expose a charlatan, and debunk a few tall tales. While waiting out the spirits, Watson recalls an even older case involving a family feud, a stolen painting, and a missing boy—the italicized tale becoming a parallel mystery whose resolution unfolds in conjunction with the castle climax.
“The Adventure of the Missing Missing Link” sends Sherlock to Oxford in June 1912 to track fossil gone missing from the university. Holmes and Watson meet the father of modern medicine (and notorious practical joker) Sr. William Osler for some rudimentary lessons in paleontology before dining with Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, and Watson’s publisher—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Marcum tosses in plenty of touchstones (“His Last Bow,” “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax”), what with Watson’s journal making mention of Holmes’ year undercover as the troublemaking Irish-American, Altamont. There are also allusions to Sherlock’s tour of Tibet, his time as an apiarist (beekeeper), and shades of his Indiana Jones-like future as an aging but still sound-minded Nazi infiltrator.
Volume Two logs Holmes’ exploration of the American wilderness. “The Affair of the Brother’s Request” sends Sherlock to Oneida to keep an old promise by relaying a message for a friend who had a bad falling out with a sibling. Visiting the Appalachians with Watson, Holmes meets the good doctor’s Tennessean relatives—the Marcums—whose progeny would act as custodian to Watson’s “lost” journals documenting these same exploits.
“The Adventure of the Madman’s Ceremony” might’ve been called “Sherlock Holmes and the Temple of Doom,” given how Marcum thrusts the deerstalker-sporting detective into the middle of ritualistic killings of a modern-day druidic cult. Sherlock also gets to the bottom of alleged corruption at the nearby college and unsavory affairs at the neighboring aluminum company (ALCOA). Watson gets a chance to exercise his marksmanship before all’s said and done, rescuing a pair of abducted boys as Holmes unmasks the cult’s hooded heathens, a la those “meddling kids” in Scooby-Doo.
Marcum’s most complex and revealing work back-ends the second book. “The Adventure of the Other Brother” dispatches Holmes and Watson to Yorkshire to assist the detective’s brother in solving another strange death and halt a land-grab from a zealous buyer with an enigmatic history. Only the “brother” in question isn’t Mycroft, and Holmes’ meticulous stone-turning finds him teaming with a nephew whose deductive prowess rivals his own. But the introduction of brothers and nephews we never knew about is only the first of several surprises in these pages, whose contents Watson vows to keep secret by storing his notes a safety deposit box for 75 years after his death. Again, Marcum digs deep into Holmesian folklore, dropping references to “Hound of the Baskervilles” and other familiar mysteries (and we discover teenage Sherlock’s mathematics tutor was none other than a certain nefarious professor). Knife wounds, foot prints, and black magic totems become crucial clues leading to a culprit who isn’t all he seems, and Sherlock’s apprentice nephew learns a thing or two about forensics, evidence, and chain-of-custody whilst on the killer’s trail (poising him and his cousin to take over for Holmes after he ceases his consulting practice).