A Study in Sherlock: Mysteries without any clues

So I’m writing a story about Sherlock Holmes and the wife brings home from the library “A Study in Sherlock,” and I’m looking forward to reading it. Apart from the writing bit, I’ve loved the stories since I was given two books one Christmas when I was a wee lad. I still have them, one of the few, visible reminders that I had a childhood.

Later, I received a two-volume set of the complete stories, and while I was going to Bouchercon regularly, I would take a volume along and got a few notables to sign it.

So after a long hiatus, I was looking forward to dipping my beak into the book, and I did.

I can’t recommend this book.

First, it doesn’t do what it says on the tin. These are stories that the cover blurb says were “inspired by the Holmes canon.” This is a tricky way of saying “yes, Holmes is the star of some of these stories, but he’s not in all of them.” Out of the 16 stories, he appears in 5 of them, and one of them is set in modern times. In another, set after Reichenbach, Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson appears.

Short-story collections are a mixed bag, but this one seems below average in quality. There are a couple of gems. Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” is the best written, but whether you like it depends on whether you like stories that are simple narratives without any mystery to them. Gaiman is writing for effect, when Holmes in retirement travels to China to “solve” the mystery of Death after his brother Mycroft dies. It’s evocatively written and some lovely scenes, but it’s told almost like a legend, as inventive in its own way as his Holmes/Lovecraft mashup “A Study in Emerald.”

Laura Lippman’s contribution “The Last of Sheila-Locke Holmes” is similar to Gaiman’s story, about a young New York City girl snooping into her parents’ effects and discovering something unsettling about her father’s past. Again, if you know anything about her writing, you know what to expect, and you get it. The fact that it left me flat should not be taken as a criticism. These types of literary stories leave me cold, in general.

Then there are the mystery stories that I’m more comfortable saying I didn’t like. In Thomas Perry’s “The Startling Events in the Electrified City,” Holmes asked by William McKinley to fake his assassination. Apparently, the Occupy movement has reached Baker Street, because McKinley tells Holmes that he realized that Big Money put him in the Oval Office, and if reform is to come, he needs to be moved out of the way so Teddy Roosevelt can take over. Apparently, no one ever told Willie that he could resign. Instead, we get Holmes carrying out the task with much historical description and without much trouble.

This was an annoying story. If you’re going to rattle your keyboard against the One Percenters, why not push it over the top? Why not have the eeeevil banksters try to stop Holmes? Instead, of red meat, you get skim milk to feed the NPR crowd.

But just because Holmes doesn’t appear in the majority of the stories doesn’t mean they should all be cast into the outer darkness. I liked “The Eyak Interpreter” by Dana Stabenow, featuring her Native American police detective investigating a peculiar kidnapping with the help of her son, whose blogging about it for a school assignment. Clever. And Colin Cotterill tells his story through a graphic short story — hmmm, it’s not a graphic novel and not a comic. We need a German word, perhaps. Would grafik kurzgeschichte do? In any event, the effect is marred by it being printed on one step up from newsprint.

Laurie King co-edited the anthology with Leslie S. Klinger and contributed a “twitterview” with her character, Mary Russell, who over a series of novels marries Holmes and investigates cases with him. Brushing aside the ludicrousness of her still being alive (and Holmes, too) in the 21st century, she comes off as standoffish and priggish, not helped by 144-character statements, and she got my American up in wanting to tell her that the stick up her ass can be removed any time she likes. I had met Russell before in “The Moor” and thought her and the book a bore, so that didn’t help matters.

In fact, as I dutifully plowed through these stories, I began to wonder if it was me and not the stories that were deficient. I grew so concerned that I went back to my reviews and dug out a couple of anthologies edited by Marvin Kaye (“Resurrected Holmes” and “The Confidential Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” and read a couple that I had thought worked. They still did.

Solution: Check out “A Study in Sherlock” before you decide to buy.