Invisible Ink: No 197 - The other Sherlock Holmes writers


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The Independent Culture

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective inspired many other authors to tackle stories beyond the accepted canon. Adrian Conan Doyle picked up his father’s mantle, accompanied by John Dickson Carr (who I imagine did most of the heavy lifting) for The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, based on 12 unexplained cases mentioned by Holmes, but these tales are now out of print.

Conan Doyle’s litigious son fell out with the biographer Hesketh Pearson over the publication of a supposedly missing Holmes short story, but soon the floodgates were open and everyone had a bash at them. Conan Doyle’s style is easy to mimic, and the rules surrounding the structure of the stories mean that any professional writer with a mind to it can make a decent fist of producing them. So we get Philip Jose Farmer’s The Peerless Peer and Loren D Estleman’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Holmes and Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula. Michael Dibdin and Anthony Horowitz have written Holmes novels, although they have divided critics and readers, and Anthony Boucher, a talented US mystery writer in his own right, went so far as to create new stories under the name of Holmes.

Sherlock didn’t always appear as himself. August Derleth recreated the detective as Solar Pons, and Nicholas Meyer added Sigmund Freud to the psychological mix in his highly regarded The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and lesser-known follow-ups The West End Horror and The Canary Trainer. Meyer caught the true Victorian tone of the originals so that his cases transcended mere pastiche.

Books were dedicated to Irene Adler, the Baker Street Irregulars, Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade and Dr Watson. Holmes has squared off against Jack the Ripper in a thousand different scenarios, and has been sent on to the deck of the Titanic and into outer space. From Doctor Who to the Muppets, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch, everyone has tackled Conan Doyle’s creation, but what’s often overlooked is that the author himself contributed to the non-canonical stories, with “The Field Bazaar”, “The Lost Special”, and “The Man with the Watches” featuring an unnamed sleuth who is most likely intended to be Holmes, and a play written with William Gillette that contains the first mention of the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. The writers’ choice for truly smart Holmes pastiches remains Mr Kim Newman, particularly for Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles and his delicious Mysteries of the Diogenes Club volumes.