Go West, Young Holmes

Having been involved recently in a Holmes anthology about Sherlock Holmes in Finland, I naturally picked up its sibling volume Sherlock Holmes in America (edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower) when it caught my eye in my local bookstore.

The authorial line-up was quite promising: Bill Crider, Matthew Pearl, Loren D. Estleman, Jon L. Breen and Steve Hockensmith, among others. Estleman's two Holmes novels pitting Holmes against Mr. Hyde and Dracula were highly influential to me personally when I read them at an early and impressionable age and I thoroughly enjoyed Pearl's recent The Poe Shadow (much more than his earlier The Dante Club), so those two names alone sold the book to me.

Not a bad book, I must say. Of course there were the obligatory Sherlock Meets Somebody Jolly Famous stories - Sherlock did meet Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Davy Crockett's violin (maybe) - but by and large the stories were fresh and interesting.

What I particularly enjoy is when somebody takes Holmes and does something different with him. We've all read the Doyle originals. Nobody does them better than Doyle - so why not try another approach? Surprise me, is my devout hope. Show me a new side of Holmes - or at least Holmes in a new light.

Tall order, I now. Much simpler just to serve cold left-overs.

Some writers pull it off with flying colours. In The Ghosts and the Machine Lloyd Rose has Sherlock and Mycroft in America with their father. They run across a former military gentleman, a colonel who was involved in investigating Lincoln's assassination. Now mister Olcott is a lawyer and he's come to Vermont to look into psychic phenomena and investigate if certain mediums (the Eddy brothers of Chittenden) are genuine or frauds. The young Holmes brothers at once spot the cheat - but strangely enough Olcott is convinced of the authenticity of the Eddys. Why? He's an intelligent man, why does he fall for such an embarrasingly clumsy show? In a wonderful way Rose's story reflects Doyle's own dilemma and the reasons underlying Doyle's belief in the supernatural. And fascinatingly enough Henry Steel Olcott was a real person and the Eddy incident really did occur. Around that time Olcott met a certain Russian lady and together they founded a new society. The lady was called Blavatsky and the society The Theosophical Society.

Olcott, like Doyle, wants to believe because he has to believe. To do otherwise would be too painful. In fact, quite unbearable.

Steve Hockensmith's story brings young Sherlock to America as a member of a theatrical company. Curiously enough, although he has talent and plenty of it, Sherlock really doesn't want any starring roles. Instead he prefers to play supporting roles and blend into the background. Funny, that. The story is based on a notion by Baring-Gould. In Stashower's The Seven Walnuts the sleuthing is done by Doyle's future crony Harry Houdini who believes he can solve a nasty robbery in the theatre by applying Sherlock's methods. As his Watson he has his brother - who incidentally does solve the crime.

Michéal Breathnach's The Song at Twilight tells us about how Holmes comes out of his retirement and infiltrates the Fenians of Chicago. There he meets Birdy Edwards's daughter and complications ensue, also - surprisingly - love. But it cannot last, that much is clear, Holmes may never find that kind of fulfillment. And when he returns to England he's ready to take on the dreaded von Bork as the Irish-American anarchist Altamont.

Almost the most compelling read in the book is a short monograph by Michael Walsh called Moriarty, Moran, and More: Anti-Hibernian Sentiment in the Canon. In it Walsh astounds us: "It is my contention in this brief monograph that Conan Doyle's distaste for his own Irishness, lightly and comically alluded to in the excrepts above, was in reality deep-rooted and far-reaching." Did Doyle hate the Irish? As well as the Irish in himself? Strange idea, but Walsh does indeed prove his point. Is it a mere coincidence that all the nastiest villains in the Canon bear Irish names? I think not. And interestingly enough the prefix mor has dark and disturbing connotations - the land of Mordor. And ultimately murder. Walsh further claims that Holmes's deadliest enemy is none of the aforementioned gentlemen. Oh no. It is a woman: Mary Morstan. She was the real reason Holmes went on his hiatus. Only when she was dead could he return and life in Baker Street with the trusty (in some things) Watson could be resumed. It may be worth noting that Doyle's own mother was called Mary. In His Last Bow Holmes called himself Altamont, which in reality was Doyle's father's name. These are deep waters.

Not at all a bad little collection. Better than one had any right to expect. The truly fascinating stories made it indeed a splendid buy and none of the poorer stories was absolutely dismal.

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