Sarah Weinman recently reviewed “The Sherlockian” for the Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt.
It’s far too easy to stereotype an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s storied and much-beloved detective. After all, the pipe-smoking deductive genius, since his birth in the pages of Strand magazine in 1887, has inspired many admirers to emulate his speech patterns and style of dress. Attend the annual meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars and the demographic will likely skew toward those with more gray than any other color in their hair.
Doing so, however, neglects some facts that surprise at first, and seem obvious in hindsight: Sherlockians start on their journey toward admiration of the detective and his sidekick Watson at an early age, and much of the best literature that reimagines Holmes in new adventures has been written by authors still in their 20s. They have the energy and enthusiasm to go where countless writers have gone before, and in that state of freshness, stretch Conan Doyle’s original world well beyond initial constraints without sacrificing the essence of what makes Holmes and Watson tick.
Consider “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (W.W. Norton: $13.95 paper), Nicholas Meyer’s 1974 novel that imagined Holmes meeting and teaming up with Sigmund Freud. Keeping the spirit of Conan Doyle while adding extra layers of psychology propelled the book to the bestseller list, where it stayed for nearly a year. Reading it now, I was struck by the brashness of Meyer’s voice, a more modern sensibility peeking out from underneath the pastiche that was in keeping with his relative youth (Meyer was 29 when “Seven Per-Cent” was released, though he’d written the manuscript several years earlier). That exuberance largely remains in “The West End Horror” (W.W. Norton: $12.95 paper), Meyer’s 1976 follow-up, though the passage of time — and his success as a film director — contributed to the more subdued tone of his last Holmesian foray, “The Canary Trainer” (W.W. Norton: $17.95 paper) in 1993.
Lyndsay Faye had an even taller order with “Dust and Shadow” (Simon & Schuster: $15 paper), her 2009 debut novel. In it she imagines Holmes and Watson on the trail of Jack the Ripper, a plot device well-trod in previous Sherlockian pastiches. But Faye’s attention to detail and immersion in Conan Doyle’s universe, not to mention a keen eye for surprising plot twists, elevates her take on the most notorious unsolved serial murder far beyond pedestrian status. It remains to be seen if Faye’s Holmes simulacra will return, but many — myself included — would welcome such a development.
Graham Moore fits the youthful bill, but his venture into the world Conan Doyle created is from a series of side angles, not head-on like his aforementioned peers. The novel “The Sherlockian“ (Twelve: 354 pp., $24.99), rather than delving into another Holmes story, turns him into the objet d’art of the Baker Street Irregulars and their ilk. That most certainly includes its youngest member, Harold White, a freelance literary researcher based in Los Angeles prone to wearing a plaid deerstalker hat he had owned “since he was fourteen years old, since he had first become obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dressed as the famed detective for Halloween.”
White doesn’t have long to revel in his anointed newbie status, what with the unexpected and gruesome death of Alex Cale, a leading Sherlock scholar who claimed that he’d found a long-missing Conan Doyle diary…
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– Sarah Weinman
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