TITLE: In Re: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons (Solar Pons #1)
AUTHOR: August Derleth
288 pages, Belanger Books, ISBN 9781720599623 (paperback, ebook, audiobook)
DESCRIPTION: (from the Publisher’s description): Once again in old London, "the game is afoot." In these pastiches of the Sacred Writings, written when he was nineteen and twenty, August Derleth has recreated the London of Sherlock Holmes. It does not matter that the familiar name has become Solar Pons, or that the familiar Baker Street has become Praed Street — something of the nostalgic charm and fascination, of the remembered quickening of the pulse and the familiar settings of the original London of Sherlock Holmes, has been recaptured in these pages. And what intriguing titles there arc to these twelve pastiches, chosen from among a greater number! Here are "The Adventure of the Frightened Baronet" — about a spectral image of Siva seen at a country estate beyond London; "The Adventure of the Purloined Periapt" — which is the purest of pastiches and perhaps the closest of all the tales in this book to the original spirit; "The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle" —containing some of the neatest deduction in the book; "The Adventure of the Man with the Broken Face" — a tale of "dark waters"; and eight others. "No doubt," writes Vincent Starrett in his Introduction, "we — and by we, I mean those frantic and incurable Sherlockians who, with August Derleth, deplore the paucity of canonical entertainments — should rather have more of the great originals, but we accept the imitations, faute de mieux, to satisfy a normal appetite. And we accept them with enthusiasm. They are the work of affectionate minds and hands. There is no intention to deceive. These stories, and others in their field, are intended only to please. They are nostalgic reminders of vanished days and nights in Baker Street."
MY RATING: four out of five stars
MY THOUGHTS: I’m sure I knew of Solar Pons, as one of the many Sherlock Holmes pastiches I read in middle and high school. But I didn’t really become consciously aware of him, or just how many stories comprise the Pontine Canon, until I started regularly haunting used book stores and participating in various pulp magazine and “Wold Newton Universe” online groups about a decade and a half ago. Whether the Pontine Canon is composed only of the original stories by August Derleth or includes the later stories written by Basil Copper is for more knowledgeable minds than mine to debate; I bought all of the Pons 70s paperbacks I could find in those used bookstores with the intent of reading the whole series once I had them all. What inspired me to finally start (having finally read/listened to the entire Holmesian canon in order a few years ago) is the re-issue of the Derleth books by Belanger Books under the editorship of Pons expert David Marcum. And, more specifically, the offer from the publisher of a free audiobook of this first book in the series in exchange for an honest review.
For those not in the know (and who somehow missed the book description just above): August Derleth created Solar Pons to be the successor to Sherlock Holmes. Pons and his amanuensis, Doctor Lyndon Parker, are very much like their literary predecessors -- Derleth wasn't trying to create something new and daring, but was rather paying tribute to characters who had given him so much joy and for whom new adventures would not be forthcoming (I wonder, did Derleth ever suspect the overwhelming amount of new Holmes fiction that would be written, authorized or otherwise, after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s passing? Did Derleth suspect that there would be more Pons stories written and published beyond his originals?)
The stories in this first collection, therefore, feel very much like Derleth writing Doyle: the stories are short and punchy; Parker spends a few paragraphs in each story talking about Pons’ amazing skills of ratiocination; Pons constantly tries to get Parker to deduce what’s really going on but of course the Chronicler is, if not clueless, at least not as intuitive as his friend. There are detectives and beat cops from Scotland Yard who are impressed by the detective but also a bit off-put by him; there’s a criminal mastermind with hinted-at history that we never quite get enough information about; there are even street-urchin “Irregulars” to help Pons in situations where multiple suspects need to be under surveillance.
It sounds sort of derivative, doesn’t it? And yet … in the reading, it doesn’t feel derivative at all. Derleth’s narrative voice, through Lyndon Parker, is lighter than Doyle’s, less serious but not lacking in tension. The Pons-Parker dynamic is a bit more playful than that of their predecessors, without sacrificing the mutual respect they have. Pons’ relationship with Scotland Yard is less condescending (although he still pokes at the fact that he can find clues they seem incapable of finding on their own), and so the various officers’ attitude to Pons is more openly respectful. And Derleth doesn’t wait until he’s ready to kill his lead character off to introduce an arch-nemesis: Baren Ennesfred Kroll is mentioned in one story in this collection and actually appears in another. I assume he recurs in later volumes as well.
Steve White’s narration of the audiobook is at its best in the voices of Parker and Pons, who feel distinct from each other (Pons is a little more nasal in delivery, Parker a bit broader-toned). I didn’t always feel like the supporting character voices worked; some felt like the accent was more South African, some felt at odds with the character descriptions (for instance, Parker describes in one story a beautiful young woman as their client, but White’s character voice is more middle-age matronly). But overall, White does a wonderful job keeping the stories tense and exciting, and finding the humor in both Parker and Pons’ lines where appropriate.
This first Solar Pons collection is full of fun mysteries, some more predictable than others, with an engaging lead detective and sidekick. If you’ve read all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, you’re likely to enjoy this as a follow-up. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series, or listening if Belanger Books brings out more audiobook editions.