The Strange Case of the Disappearing Deutero-Watson

Deutero-Watson is, according to Ronald Knox's famous essay, a false Watson.

"Any studies in Sherlock Holmes must be, first and foremost, studies in Dr. Watson. Let us treat at once of the literary and bibliographical aspects of the question. First, as to authenticity. There are several grave inconsistencies in the Holmes cycle. For example the Study in Scarlet and the Reminiscences are from the hand of John H. Watson, M.D., but in the story of ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip,’ Mrs. Watson addresses her husband as James. The present writer, together with three brothers, wrote to ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for an explanation, appending their names in the proper style with crosses after them, and an indication that this was the sign of the Four. The answer was that it was an error, an error, in fact of editing. ‘Nihil aliud hic latet’, says the great Sauwosch, ‘nisi redactor ignoratissimus.’ Yet this error gave the original impetus to Backnecke's theory of the Deutero-Watson, to whom he assigns the Study in Scarlet, the ‘Gloria Scott’, and the ‘Return of Sherlock Holmes’. He leaves to the Proto-Watson the rest of the Memoirs, the Adventures, the Sign of Four and the Hound of the Baskervilles. He disputed the Study in Scarlet on other grounds, the statement in it, for example, that Holmes’s knowledge of literature and philosophy was nil, whereas it is clear that the true Holmes was a man of wide reading and deep thought. We shall deal with this in its proper place." So he writes in his groundbreaking 1911 essay Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Many Deutero-Watsons around today. But a fair amount of Holmesian literature today makes do without any Watson whatever. This is simply because the books aren't about Holmes at all, thus neither Proto-Watson nor Deutero-Watson can act as their narrator.

Are these books Sherlockian at all? Probably not. Holmesian, then? Maybe, possibly. They do after all stem from the source and are the branches of the same tree. Or often not even branches, mere twigs.

The best known example is Laurie R. King and her novels about Mary Russell, the young woman who meets and eventually weds the retired Holmes, a man old enough to be her grandfather, and then starts solving crimes. Fairly odd twist that, The Great Detective with a female Watson (I bet monsignor Knox never saw that one coming) and a crimesolving missus. For some strange reason I've never read any of the Mary Russell books. I don't mind the uncanonical matrimony, actually I find it delightfully heretical, and even Doyle himself didn't mind in the slightest when he gave Gillette permission to marry off Holmes, it's just that I've never come across any of King's Holmesian books. Which is, also, quite remarkable as they cannot be too hard to find. There are ten books: The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994), A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995), A Letter of Mary (1997), The Moor (1998), O Jerusalem (1999), Justice Hall (2002), The Game (2004), Locked Rooms (2005), The Language of Bees (2009), and lastly The God of the Hive (2010).

Mary Russell may be Mrs. Holmes but Irene Adler is and always shall be The Woman in the canon. So or course she must have books written about her. This task has fallen on the shoulders of Carole Nelson Douglas who's written a whole series: Good night, Mr Holmes (1990), Good Morning, Irene (1990), Irene at Large (1992), Irene's Last Waltz (1994), Chapel Noir (2000), Castle Rouge (2002), and Femme Fatale (2003). So what do you think when you think the delectable Ms. Adler? Jack the Ripper? No? Well Carole Nelson Douglas does. Irene vs. Jack. Right. Sounds . . . well . . . rather less than promising.

Moriarty I've dealt with previously. Suffice it to say that Gardner isn't the only one with his own Moriarty series. The science fiction author Michael Kurland wrote his first Moriarty tale in 1978: The Infernal Device. Others have followed. Death by Gaslight (1982), The Great Game (2001) and The Empress of India. His latest titles seem to be more orthodox Sherlockianism with anthologies he's edited: My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective (2003), Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years (2004) and Sherlock Holmes: The American Years (2010).

The Baker Street Irregulars have got their series by Michael Citrin and Tracy Mack: The Case of the Amazing Zalindas, The Case of the Conjured Man and In Search of Watson. Even the occasionally very plodding Lestrade has gendered a series, by M.J. Trow (who also has written non-fiction about, for example, Jack the Ripper and the death of Kit Marlowe). I have The Brigade (1998) in my shelf. "There is a new broom at Scotland Yard: Nimrod Frost. His first "little job" for Inspector Sholto Lestrade is to investigate the reported appearance of a lion in Cornwall, a supposed savager of sheep and frightener of men. Hardly a task for an Inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department." Saith the flap. What ho - Nimrod? Sholto? "Trow offers a genuinely humorous pastiche bouyed by a refreshing irreverence too often absent from Conan Doyle knockoffs." Claimeth ye dust jacket. Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we. The jury ain't in yet on Inspector Sholto Lestrade.

And of course there's Mycroft. Quite remarkably much has been written about brother Mycroft, in fact, far more than one casually would assume. He stars in several series of his own and a large number of stray volumes. There's a series by H.F. Heard, the classic one starting as early as in the 40's with A Taste for Honey (1941). Then there's one by Glen Petrie. There's a French series. Possibly two. And then there's a series by Quinn Fawcett which seems rather promising: Against The Brotherhood (1997), Embassy Row (1998), The Flying Scotsman (1999), The Scottish Ploy (2000). Quinn Fawcett is a pen name and behind it we may find Bill Fawcett and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The series takes us to the international and heady world of espionage. This is what it says on the back cover of Against the Brotherhood : "Against the Brotherhood is full of attempted assassinations, secret spymasters, anarchist cabals, concealed identities, double- and triple agents, burglary, and sabotage, all done in true Conan Doyle style." Pretty action packed stuff for a gent who never leaves his home, lest it be for the office or the Diogenes Club. Mycroft's Watson is his secretary Patterson Guthrie. Bill Fawcett has (have) also penned a couple of novels about a Victorine Vernet, the wife of a Napolenonic general. One would assume she's one of the Vernets and therefore one of Holmes's French relatives, possibly a great-grandmother or great-aunt of some sort.

So, who's missing? Mrs. Hudson? Where's her series? Surely she could subdue a few villains afore preparing Sherlock his lunch? Mrs. Watson? Why has nobody bothered to tell us about the crimes she must solve? Colonel Moran? Bet he was up to a spot of no good in India, eh? Henry Baskerville? Doctor Mortimer? Abe Slaney? Violet Smith? Tonga? Toby?

Well, we'll just have to wait. Probably not for too long.

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