Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.
Since my most recent book review was about the first adventures of a Holmes pastiche/stand-in named Solar Pons, and since I’ve been trying to make my way through accumulated magazine back-issues to clear them out of my apartment, I thought I’d make three Holmes tales by authors other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the subject of today’s Sunday Shorts.
Even before most of the Holmes canon entered Public Domain, authors have published further adventures of the Great Detective and his friends. Some had authorization from the Conan Doyle Estate and some didn’t. For many years now, the revived Strand Magazine has published Holmes tales by other authors. As with novels and short story collections written about Holmes, the stories in the Strand come with various levels of quality, creativity, and respect for the canon. These are three I particularly liked; two of them are even connected to stories written by Conan Doyle himself, and all three are narrated by someone other than Doctor Watson (two by Holmes himself, a rarity in the original canon).
1. NOTES UPON THE DIADEM CLUB AFFAIR by Lyndsay Faye, from the October 2015 issue of The Strand. I don’t think I’ve failed to enjoy a Holmes tale penned by Lyndsay Faye (I also keep meaning to read her non-Holmes novels but just haven’t gotten there yet). This one was no exception. It’s a bit light on showing Holmes’ actual deductive abilities, being a more playful tale. Holmes narrates his own meeting with a society fop named Lord Chesley Templeton, who invites him to be a special guest at a meeting of a very special private club. Holmes declines, not wanting to be anyone’s pet monkey, until a letter from Brother Mycroft changes his mind. Holmes and Watson learn more about Templeton, stop a crime, and Watson encounters a Baroness with an interest in writing. Holmes’ disdain for Templeton’s easily-seen-through disguise at the first meeting is set against his own dramatic way of getting Watson to accompany him, just one of several character-driven moments that made me smile. (Fellow fans of Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family may find humorous Watson’s implication that the Baroness who cameos ends up basing her most famous character on someone from this tale; I wrote it off as Watson purposefully misguiding readers.)
2. AN ACTUAL TREASURE by David Marcum, from the October 2017 issue of The Strand. Marcum’s tale is also narrated by Holmes via his own journal entries, and also ties back to a very important case in the Holmes canon, the one in which Holmes and Watson first met Mary Morstan (later the First Mrs. Watson). Marcum brings Inspectors Jones and LeStrade into the story as well as the Baker Street Irregulars (and one in particular named Levi), and while the story is again sort of light on Holmes’ deductive abilities, it provides a very satisfactory follow-up to what happened to the jewels that went missing at the end of that earlier case. Marcum also showcases aspects of Holmes’ personality other chroniclers sometimes overlook or ignore: his patience and paternal feeling towards children, his respect for Mrs. Hudson, the fact that although Holmes always claims not to theorize before all the facts are in he actually does it quite often in the original canon (near the end of this tale, Holmes comments “I had formed seven theories about what might have occurred, and while this wasn’t the most probable of them, it was my favorite.”). There’s even a winking mention of Praed Street, although this is many years before Solar Pons and Doctor Parker will take up residence on that thoroughfare.
3. LADY HILDA REVEALED by Bonnie MacBird, from the October 2018 issue of the Strand. This is a different king of Holmes pastiche, told in the form of a letter from a society lady to Doctor Watson. Also her husband has long since passed away, “Lady Hilda Trelawny Hope” maintains the fictitious identity Watson gave her when he published Holmes’ “Adventure of the Second Stain,” but strives to correct the good doctor on a number of points regarding how she was portrayed. This could easily have been a poke at officious society types, but instead MacBird gives us an intimate portrait of a woman who could, under other circumstances, have been just as strong a foil for Holmes as Irene Adler, Mary Morstan, or Violet Hunter. It’s a wonderful character piece that expands on the original story without ever making Holmes or Watson look bad.