THE ADVENTURE OF THE PLATED SPOON AND OTHER TALES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES — Edited by Loren D. Estleman. Tyrus Books, 2014, Anthology: 12 selections, 270 pages, ISBN: 978-1-4405-7450-4
“But surely everyone in the civilized world (and most in the undeveloped one) could pick Sherlock Holmes out of a police lineup. We can’t escape him, although why we should try is a mystery only he could clear up.”
It has been noted more than once that doing a successful pastiche is a delicate and difficult operation, to be performed only by the best literary surgeons. Someone attempting a pastiche must be intimately familiar not only with the characters and themes that thread their way through the corpus of the author’s works that are being imitated, but also—and this is crucial—the writer’s style. Failing to capture (or recapture) that nearly indefinable aspect of composition—in other words, losing the “voice”—has shipwrecked many a pasticheur.
But that hasn’t stopped them from trying. And try they do. No accurate count has ever been made of how many times Sherlock Holmes has been imitated, but it must surely run into the thousands, never mind the countless parodies (which are often wrongly confused with pastiches).
When doing Holmes imitations, Loren D. Estleman is about as good as they get; there’s enough of Conan Doyle in there to lull the reader into suspending his disbelief and, for the moment at least, forgetting that he isn’t reading something produced by the Grand Poobah himself.
In The Adventure of the Plated Spoon, Estleman has assembled an even dozen authors, all with the same idea of invoking in some way the Great Detective, humorously or in all seriousness. Eight of the selections—by some of the biggest names in mystery fiction—have appeared elsewhere before, with the other four receiving first exposure here. They’re all worth your time, even if, poor soul, you aren’t a mystery reader or a Sherlock Holmes devotee.
Introduction — “Always Holmes”:
Editor Estleman comments on the inescapable ubiquity of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in and out of academe:
“. . . I speak not of the connoisseurs: the variegated buffs, scholars, and debaters who have flayed and reassembled Holmes and Watson in learned papers and at lecterns in both hemispheres, written straight-faced ‘obituaries’ of them both, and attempted, with all the grim reasoning of a historian determined to clear the name of Richard III, to expunge the mystery from the good doctor’s peripatetic battle wound (‘Leg? Shoulder? What was it, man?’). I speak instead of the greater population who can’t walk a hundred yards in any direction without tripping over some reference to Holmes and Watson.”
As for the never-ending series of parodies and pastiches, Estleman writes,
“I’ve been unable to determine just how Conan Doyle felt about all this apery, but by the time it reached crisis point, he’d gone sour on Holmes and declined to discuss him even in private. (When he finally relented, in an interview filmed shortly before his death in 1930, he spent much of his time denigrating Watson’s intelligence; writers are not immune to the influence of bastardizations of their own work. Poirot’s Captain Hastings, for instance, makes the good doctor look like Stephen Hawking.)”
(1) “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators” by J. M. Barrie (from The Sherlock Holmes Compendium):
. . . I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: “Amazing! but they may be mere authors.”
“No,” said Holmes, “for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists, and actors get them by the hundred.” . . .
(2) “The Surgeon’s Kit” by Ellery Queen (excerpt from A Study in Terror):
. . . “Consider! When given a choice, have I not always sought out problems of an intellectual nature? Have I not always been drawn to adversaries of stature? Jack the Ripper, indeed! What possible challenge could this demented oaf present? A slavering cretin roaming the streets after dark, striking at random.”
“He has baffled the London police.”
“I venture to suggest that that may reflect the shortcomings of Scotland Yard rather than any particular cleverness on the part of the Ripper.” . . .
(3) “The Adventure of the Dying Ship” by Edward D. Hoch (from The Confidential Casebook of Sherlock Holmes):
. . . It was from there, an hour later, that I saw the last of the great Titanic vanish beneath the waves, carrying a victim, a murderer, and a mystery writer with it. . . .
(4) Excerpt from The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer:
. . . By what agency had Sir Crichton met his death? Did Nayland Smith know? I rather suspected that he did. What was the hidden significance of the perfumed envelope? Who was that mysterious personage whom Smith so evidently dreaded, who had attempted to take his life, who—presumably—had murdered Sir Crichton? . . .
(5) “How Watson Learned the Trick” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (from Sherlock Holmes; The Published Apocrypha):
. . . “Yes, Holmes. I was thinking how superficial are these tricks of yours, and how wonderful it is that the public should continue to show interest in them.” . . .
(6) “Two Shabby Figures” by Laurie R. King (excerpt from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice):
. . . I had, I should mention, always assumed that a large part of Dr. Watson’s adulatory stories were a product of that gentleman’s inferior imagination. Certainly he always regarded the reader to be as slow as himself. Most irritating. Nonetheless, behind the stuff and nonsense of the biographer there towered a figure of pure genius, one of the great minds of his generation. A Legend. . . .
(7) “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” by Vincent Starrett (from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes):
. . . “But you said you had solved the case, Mr. Holmes,” cried our client, in a frenzy of despair.
“Yes,” agreed Holmes, “it is solved. You have had the clue in your own hands ever since the occurrence, but you did not know how to use it.” . . .
(8) “The Adventure of the Red Widow” by Adrian Conan Doyle (from The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes):
. . . The light of the tapers, gleaming on a blood-spattered steel blade buried in the lunette, reached beyond to touch, as with a halo, the red-gold hair of the woman who sat beside that dreadful, headless form.
Regardless of our approach, she remained motionless in her high, carved chair, her features an ivory mask from which two dark and brilliant eyes stared into the shadows with the unwinking fixity of a basilisk. In an experience of women covering three continents, I have never beheld a colder nor a more perfect face than that of the chatelaine of Castle Arnsworth, keeping vigil in that chamber of death. . . .
(9) “The Mysterious Case of the Urn of ASH; or, What Would Sherlock Do?” by Deborah Morgan (original publication):
. . . Jeff called the butler back.
“What would Sherlock do?”
“The same thing you’re about to do, sir: Follow the clues to a logical conclusion.”
“But what if there isn’t one? A logical conclusion, I mean.”
“To quote Mr. Holmes: ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’” . . .
(10) “The Adventure of the Deadly Interlude” by James O’Keefe (original publication):
. . . “It hurts to say the game will never be afoot again; but if you do not remove yourself from all this, the Reichenbach may claim a third victim.” . . .
(11) “The Adventure of the Rounded Ocelot” by Larry D. Sweazy (original publication):
. . . My instinct was to demand an explanation as to how Holmes knew what I had been up to, but that would have been ridiculous. Sometimes, I felt as if I had a tick attached to the back of my neck that told him of my every move and deed. I hate ticks. . . .
(12) “The Adventure of the Plated Spoon” by Loren D. Estleman (original publication):
. . . I nearly cheered; but what would we find inside, a lady or a corpse?