Thursday, March 5, 2015
TALES FROM THE DEED BOX OF JOHN H. WATSON MD by Hugh Ashton
So I'm of the opinion that Holmes pastiches are not to be shunned. Enjoy them, but don't take them too seriously.
Anyway, I got this on a whim for my Kindle, figuring for 99 cents I won't feel cheated if it's crap. And, well, I wasn't cheated. In fact, this is a very nice little ebook for the price.
It's three tales, all three inspired by references that Doyle drops in the canon to untold stories. In the first, "Sherlock Holmes & the Odessa Business," Holmes investigates a murder at a girls' school in Brighton, which happens to be run by a never-mentioned Holmes sibling, Evadne Holmes, who is also a mathematician and foreign policy consultant. It seems to be about an attempt on the life of a Russian noble attending the school, but turns out to be more about Evadne's work with the Foreign Office. Diverting, but definitely the least of the series.
Second was "The Case of the Missing Matchbox" and this is the story of Isadora Persano and the worm that was unknown to science. This really works and is the closest to coming to Doyle's level. Isadora Persano is a journalist and known duelist who savages a composer's new opera; he ends up stark staring mad, as Doyle said, but the circumstances are interesting and it's got a macabre edge.
Third was "The Case of the Cormorant," which is based on the Doyle reference to the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant. Holmes and Watson go on holiday to Cornwall, only Watson discovers something's afoot. Holmes has been asked to investigate a politician who lives locally, an amateur chemist who lives beyond his means. There's smugglers, dastardly doings, and a trained cormorant. It's not bad but there's an annoying issue with a story element that's dropped abruptly and forgotten, and how Holmes seems to automatically know right away that the newly-discovered drug heroin is badly addictive.
What annoys me about many pastiches is that they tend to throw dozens of real-life Victorians in the mix, or they clumsily do crossovers with other fictional universes. This avoids all that literary name-dropping. Also, they often try too hard to plunk Holmes down in the author's favorite geographic area, be it Brazil or Minnesota, and that's avoided as well.
This little collection is enjoyable, but does have its drawbacks. The introduction of Evadne Holmes is intriguing but she is not developed much; I wonder of Ashton uses her more in his subsequent stories. The introduction of heroin as a plot element in the third story was a bit jarring; Doyle's description of drugs seldom went further than opium. And there's occasional interactions that seem out of character.
Still, it's a fun little collection, and for 99 cents, you can't complain too much.