‘Encounters of Sherlock Holmes’ book review

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If you’re a Holmes aficionado then the experience of reading Encounters of Sherlock Holmes might be likened to that of the character Mr Melas in 1893’s ‘The Greek Interpreter’ – sitting bewildered in a Hansom cab as it rattles and jolts over the cobbles, heading toward a destination unknown. It’s a jarring ride, but certainly an interesting one.

Encounters is a collection of 14 imaginative short stories chronicling the adventures of The Great Detective when he wasn’t besting Moriarty, smoking his way through another thoroughly upper-middle-class crime, or avoiding death at the tentacles of a sharktopus (see Guy Adams’ The Army of Dr. Moreau).

In fact you wouldn’t be surprised if a sharktopus did slither up, for as Conan Doyle’s creation stalks gaslit London he encounters a number of classic literary creations now exiled into the cruel cold of the public domain, including Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr Jekyll, Raffles, and even Martians.

This might disgust some fans, who feel the detective should not stray too from the opium dens and suburban villas that backdrop Conan Doyle’s adventures, but no matter how fantastical the story, every writer has a clear grasp on the personality and voice of both Holmes and Watson, as well as a substantial knowledge of the canon. Cavan Scott’s ‘The Demon Slasher of Seven Sisters’ features an opener that riffs on the start of ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ in a cheeky but intriguing fashion.

The quality of stories varies as much as the way in which they are told. Some, such as George Mann’s ‘Case of the Night Crawler’ and Richard Dinnick’s ‘Adventure of the Swaddled Railwayman’ imitate the style of Conan Doyle’s writing more closely, while those that deviate from the traditional Watson narration tend to suffer. Nick Kyme’s ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ has a grand gothic horror streak, but feels hampered by being written in a 1st Person Present style that does more to distance the reader than draw them in.

It’s not all character crossovers and the stuff of fan-fiction dreams, though it is the fantastical tales that tend to stick in the brain. Eric Brown’s ‘The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador’, looms large over the collection like a Tripod over 221B and not simply for having the most eye-catching title on the contents page. Brown manages to spin together the imaginative spirit of HG Wells with the puzzle-solving of Conan Doyle into a locked-room mystery that feels like a classic Sherlock story nestled in a sci-fi shell.

Encounters is decidedly un-Sherlockian in some of its trappings, but at its core it still retains the spirit of the original tales. It’s here that it succeeds. The game afoot may not be one we’re used to seeing Holmes playing, but in this collection he plays it as well as ever.

Published on Friday 22 February 2012 by Titan Books.

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