Sherlock Holmes: The game will always be afoot

It’s no mystery why Sherlock Holmes endures. 

I first came to Sherlock as a teenager, sucked into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intricate little puzzle-boxes of stories. There are just 56 stories and four short novels that Doyle wrote, which when you tick them all off, may leave you feeling a bit bereft.

But the thing about a great character like Sherlock Holmes is he’s pretty malleable. The pile of “Sherlockiana” – Holmes reboots, sequels, prequels, reimaginings and more – far exceeds what Doyle wrote in his lifetime. He’s the most portrayed fictional character in history

As a sucker for Sherlock who finished the original canon decades ago, I’m an easy mark for the never-ending cascade of Sherlockiana stories. Some are great, good as anything Doyle ever wrote and occasionally even better. Some of them are pretty dire. Many are just kind of there. But there’s literally a Holmes for everyone, and that’s part of the fun of diving in. 

There are new Holmes mysteries, written in as close a style to Doyle as possible. There are alternate history versions, team-ups, and more. I scored a whole pile of Titan Books’ recent reissues of “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” pastiches a while back, which feature reimaginings galore starring everyone from President Theodore Roosevelt to Harry Houdini to Tarzan, fighting Jack the Ripper or Dracula or The Phantom of the Opera. 

There’s an amusingly twisted series of “Warlock Holmes” Lovecraftian comic parodies which imagine a demon-haunted magician Holmes aided by his partner Watson, the true detective of the duo. 

There’s even a subset of “ancient Sherlock” stories featuring Holmes in his extreme old age, such as Michael Chabon’s bittersweet “The Final Solution,” Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey,” or Mitch Cullins’s “Mr. Holmes.”

But boy, I wish Sherlock pastiche writers would retire the unbearable cliche of Professor Moriarty “suddenly” being revealed as the mastermind in their mysteries. While Moriarty’s a fascinating character, despite his barely appearing in just two Doyle stories, he’s also a crutch for writers searching for their Joker to Sherlock’s Batman. Pulling him out as the trump card is the lazy way out. 

Not that Moriarty pastiches – and of course, there’s plenty of these too – are a bad thing. I particularly like Kim Newman’s Moriarty novel retelling Doyle’s stories entirely from the perspective of Moriarty and his henchman Moran. And none other than famed basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbara big Sherlockian himself – has done a few novels starring Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s mysterious brother.

Gender swapped, racially reimagined, time tossed or even Sherlock in space, it’s all out there in the Sherlock multiverse. I like a good mystery. And while the flood of Sherlockiana is admittedly inconsistent and requires a solid detective to ferret out the gems, there’s few pleasures more cozy than settling in with a new take on the sacred hunt. The game’s always afoot! 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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