August 24, 2017


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You can't keep a good detective down, Watson

Holmes alive, well in print, on TV and big screen

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/12/2011 (2084 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arthur Conan Doyle killed his famous creation, the famous London detective Sherlock Holmes, with the stroke of a pen in 1893. But he refuses to die.

British young adult novelist Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider series) adds to the long line of pastiches, parodies and poor substitutes with a clever, accomplished (if a touch long) adult novel as recounted by Holmes' Boswell, an elderly Dr. Watson.

Robert Downey Jr. as the latest movie Sherlock.


WARNER BROS. Robert Downey Jr. as the latest movie Sherlock.

As with most "now it can be revealed" tales, this one has languished in the vaults of Cox and Co. in Charing Cross, too horrible to be released on an unprepared public until now. Once again the duo are ensconced in their rooms at 221 B Baker Street. Art dealer Edmund Carstairs is being menaced by a man in a flat cap. This follows on the heels of an art sale scam in America. Holmes and Watson visit the scene and Holmes begins to unravel the twisted skein set before him.

Horowitz doesn't miss a trick. All the delightful Doyle touches are lovingly recreated -- Holmes seemingly reads Watson's thoughts from careful observation and a few slight bits of behaviour. The thinking machine is smoothly at work, sometimes in disguise, "observing" where others only "see." Tobacco and violin music are invoked as aids to the solution.

But Horowitz has more in mind than a simple homage. He wants to go where Conan Doyle did not -- below the romantic surface of fog-shrouded London.

Where Doyle saw order restored by Holmes' intervention, Horowitz has Holmes' recklessness in using his street urchins (the Baker Street Irregulars) result in the violent death of a child. Even more disturbing, those entrusted with maintaining order, morality and decency may be the criminals.

The pursuit of the flat cap gang turns into a dangerous pursuit of the House of Silk -- a secret society -- wicked in Victorian terms and yet as contemporary as today's headlines.

This novel carries a sticker claiming it is the first time the Conan Doyle estate has authorized a new Holmes novel. Also a first is the publication of Conan Doyle's first novel, The Narrative of John Smith. Doyle wrote it at 23, but it was lost in the post and he had to rewrite it from memory.

The British Library obtained the unfinished manuscript when purchasing a collection of his papers.

As Monty Python would say, "it's not a novel as such." John Smith is a 50-year-old Londoner with an attack of gout. While recuperating he expounds on a variety of topics. The items in his room, the amateur painter across the street and her straitened circumstances.

He interacts with his physician and the retired major who lives upstairs. The novel is highly autobiographical, its style of a young man full of optimism and opinions on religion, politics, medicine and the pecking order of nations.

Future Holmes touches abound and some of the material was indeed used in other Doyle novels. It is revealing and well-footnoted but of interest mainly to collectors and fans of Conan Doyle.

The review of these two books might suggest that Sherlock Holmes qualifies as something of narrow cult interest. But then how to explain the continuing flow of new material?

The new film featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, A Game of Shadows, opens Dec. 16. In November, Winnipeg reviewer Helen Norrie assessed two new young-adult novels featuring a young Holmes in the Free Press. The sequel to the successful BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch will be seen on the small screen on PBS in May, and last year saw the publication of Sherlock Holmes for Dummies.

Did Doyle's decision to push Holmes into the Reichenbach Falls stop our fascination? The answer is far from elementary.


Winnipeg broadcaster and bibliophile Ron Robinson is a member of the Great Herd of Bison of the Fertile Plains. His Sherlockian name is Birdy Edwards.


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