Confidentially Yours, Holmes

While the stream of stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have flowed unabated since the last official story by Arthur Conan Doyle, St. Martin’s Press and Marvin Kay have embarked on a series of clever anthologies over the last few years. “The Game is Afoot” brought together the best of the pastiches, both serious and satirical, written over the last half-century. “The Resurrected Holmes” imagined stories written by popular authors (Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft) and literary legends (Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac).

“The Confidential Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” contains 15 new cases which, for various reasons, Dr. Watson would have consider unpublishable. The cases were suppressed because they would hurt innocent people, unfairly damage the reputation of one of Britain’s leading politicians, or either embarrass Holmes or Watson, or reveal too many personal details about their lives before they met.

There’s not a dud story in the bunch. These are not attempted imitations of Doyle’s style, but competent retellings of cases.

There are a few stories, written with a more literate hand, or a deeper appreciation of the characters, which shine out. The stories that delve into Holmes’ childhood (“A Ballad of the White Plague” by P.C. Hodgell) and Watson’s days as a medical student (“The Case of Vittoria the Circus Belle” by Jay Sheckley) can be called formulative stories. “Plague” is an atmospheric, haunting piece that delivers a few chills, while Sheckley’s story of the circus rider contains a sexually explicit scene that may discomfort Holmesian fans.

Then there is “The Little Problem of the Grosvenor Square Furniture Van,” a burlesque told from the viewpoint of Holmes’ Scotland Yard nemisis, Inspector Lestrade. To say more would give the game away, except to hint that the tale is allegedly ghost-written by none other than Arthur Stanley Jefferson, a.k.a., Stan Laurel. “The Affair of the Counterfeit Countess” takes Holmes’ talent as a master of disguise to its logical extreme, when his appearance as the title character nearly becomes all too successful.

Readers who are wedded solely to the stories in Conan Doyle’s canon will not, of course, touch this book with a ten-foot meerschaum pipe. The rest of his fans will find these tales entertaining, even enlightening.