01 Mar 2006
Fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories know that his biographer and friend, Dr. John H. Watson, had placed a battered tin box full of notes about the great detective’s cases in the bank vault of Cox and Company of London. Supposedly destroyed by Nazi bombs during World War II, these fragments of stories yet untold have inspired writers ever since to take a hand and finish them, using Watson’s voice.
It is an understandable challenge; who would not want to know the story behind the Giant Rat of Sumatra, “a tale for which the world is not yet ready to know,” or “the story of the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant(s)” (and while we’re on the subject, what do you suppose that (s) means? Surely Watson would know whether there were one or more diving birds involved?)
But Holmes’ fans have two reasons to rejoice over this new collection of short stories, because its editor, Marvin Kaye — an old hand at anthologies when he’s not writing classic books like “The Amorous Umbrella” and “The Possession of Immanuel Wolf” had concocted an unusual premise. The battered box, he decided, had been secretly sold upon Watson’s death to a Philadelphia collector, who hired notable writers to finish them. Kaye ordained that “The Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, M.D.” contain not only stories grown from the seeds planted by A. Conan Doyle himself, but that they be written with the borrowed voices of a variety of 20th century writers.
The success of each story is dependent not only on the writer’s skill in fashioning a Holmes mystery, but in recreating the voice and attitude of another author without the whole thing falling into parody. When it works, the results can be startlingly pleasurable on multiple levels. John Gregory Betancourt amusingly revives Wells’ socialist hectoring, a touch Kaye notes in his foreword, while Paula Volsky’s is chillingly effective in using H.P. Lovecraft’s voice to tell of the Giant Rat of Sumatra.
Top prize goes to Richard Lupoff, whose has Jack Kerouac speedwriting a Holmes story so well that it reads like a lost hallucination from “On the Road,” and William DeAndrea for recreating Holmes as Mike Hammer in a deerstalker hat in “The Adventure of the Cripple Parade” Clunkers, like the tales “written” by P.G. Wodehouse and C.S. Forester — the latter featuring a Richard Hornblower drawn from history — show just how difficult it is to write in another author’s hand.
Holmes’ fans who are unhappy with this book’s consistent, yet loopy internal logic can always fall back on “The Game is Afoot,” Kaye’s previously anthology. But those who hunger for the great detective with a difference may find themselves irresistibly drawn to “Resurrected Holmes.” One wishes only for a sequel, this time featuring famous women writers.