Sherlock Holmes, 125 Years Strong | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, a brilliant consulting detective leads me down a winding path.

Begin:

 

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Penguin. 2009. 336p. ISBN 9780143117025. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781101144992. MYS
Celebrating its 125th anniversary, this first collection of Conan Doyle’s famous short stories, originally serialized in The Strand Magazine, then published in book form in 1892, features 12 iconic cases, including “The Speckled Band,” “The Red-Headed League,” and “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Collectively, the mysteries reveal the enduring appeal of the most renowned consulting detective in literature and that of his companion Dr. John Watson. Be it murder, scandal, or robbery, both Holmes and Watson are firmly on the side of justice. There are richly textured settings and narratives that build out of conversation to focus on intellect, justice, reason, and order, leaving fans feeling deeply pleased.

Read-Alikes:

 

Finch, Charles. A Beautiful Blue Death. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Charles Lenox, Bk. 1). Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781250161642. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429955331. MYS
Charles Lenox, the gentleman detective in Finch’s Victorian-set mystery series, would make a fine friend for Sherlock Holmes. Lenox’s first case begins on a snowy evening when he is summoned from his cozy library to the house next door. It seems the former housemaid of his friend Lady Jane has been poisoned, and as Lenox investigates, he discovers the case is fine entertainment for his very sharp mind. Conan Doyle admirers will appreciate Finch’s use of dialog to further the plot and a vivid sense of place and time. The author’s wonderfully rich characterizations span a range of players, including a fine butler, a doctor compatriot, and a love interest.

Perry, Anne. The Cater Street Hangman. Ballantine. (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt, Bk. 1). 2008. 304p. ISBN 9780345513564. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781453219089. MYS
It’s likely an unfair enterprise to pair the singular Sherlock Holmes with other detectives and perhaps better to suggest companions for him, so that readers have somewhere to turn once they have exhausted his casebook. Many of the Sherlockian pastiches that exist do a wonderful job of continuing his legacy (see below), but for read-alikes, Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt walk alongside Holmes without being out of step. Begun in 1979, the series runs through 32 titles, with 2017’s Murder on the Serpentine promoted as the last book (although a new generation of the family appear in the forthcoming Twenty-One Days). Readers will find delight in the Victorian-era ambience, lively characterizations, deft plotting, and smart, convincing dialog. Begin with this series opener, which introduces Charlotte to Inspector Pitt.

Read-Agains:

 

Faye, Lyndsay. The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Mysterious. Mar. 2017. 388p. ISBN 9780802125927. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802189363. MYS
Faye’s career launched with an ode to Holmes when she debuted Dust and Shadow. While she has gone on to pen the New York City–set “Timothy Wilde” trilogy, she never stopped writing about Holmes. She returns now with this collection of previously published cases enriched by two new stories. Positioning her tales within the Holmes canon, before and after key events in cases, she crafts stories that provide a flavor all her own and plenty of space for Holmes’s deductive skills and his relationship with Watson to develop. Beyond the pleasures of the various and intriguing cases, Faye’s strength lies in her smooth prose, excellent dialog, and realization of character and setting. Sure to please Conan Doyle fans who wish he had written many more tales.

Gaiman, Neil. “A Study in Emerald,” from Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. Harper. 2010. 400p. ISBN 9780060515232. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061804168. F
Winner of a Hugo and Locus Award, Gaiman transports the Sherlockian universe to that of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, with Queen Victoria as an Old Ones. Combining Lovecraft’s mysterious world with Conan Doyle’s reliance on the known, Gaiman brilliantly mines the material of both authors to craft a story with bite. A familiar character, Inspector Lestrade calls upon the consulting detective to help with the murder of a royal, found dead in a room covered in green ichor that someone used to spell out the German word RACHE (revenge) on the wall. Conan Doyle’s influence ensures that the story unfolds as Holmes lovers would expect, except for the stab of an ending, which Gaiman pulls off brilliantly.

Read-Arounds:

 

Boström, Mattias. From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon. Mysterious. Aug. 2017. 608p. tr. from Swedish by Michael Gallagher. ISBN 9780802126603. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780802189165. MYS
Why is it that the world still celebrates the creation of Sherlock Holmes more than 100 years after his birth? Boström explores that question in this wonderfully readable guide that offers a deep dive through the works of authors and actors who took Holmes for their own. In short, inviting chapters, he relates how readers, directors, illustrators, and even court battles cemented Holmes’s hold and explores the American publishers and British magazines that played a role in keeping these stories alive. This book is a treat for fans and an education for all readers.

Sims, Michael. Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes. Bloomsbury USA. Jan. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9781632860392. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781632860385. LIT
Sims undertakes literary biography with a fine eye for detail as he explores the many midwives present at the birth of Sherlock Holmes. Edgar Allan Poe was clearly there; a debt Conan Doyle took great pains to acknowledge. A much-admired medical professor, a famous toxicology expert, Charles Dickens, and Francis Bacon were also on the scene. Sims details the role of each as he explores the author’s efforts to become a writer, his concerns over money, and how his rough childhood shaped his character and that of his consulting detective. Sims also notes that Conan Doyle’s successful career was a surprise. Prior to the invention of Holmes, he was a middling and unlucky writer; the only copy of his first novel was lost in the mail.

Listen-Arounds:

 

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. 50 CDs. 58:35 hrs. Brilliance. 2013. ISBN 9781469210049. $159.97. MYS
The stellar Simon Vance, winner of multiple Audies and Earphone Awards, narrates this Audie-winning collection, which includes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, four novels, and 40-plus short stories. This treasure trove is perfect for long-haul flights and cross-country drives but equally suitable to linger over with a favorite tale in a spare moment. Vance inhabits Holmes and Watson with strong and convincing accents, showcasing his excellent characterizations for a range of figures. A master of mood, he will make listeners feel as if they are inside Holmes’s study, learning how a case unfolds.

Thomas, Sherry. A Conspiracy in Belgravia. (Lady Sherlock, Bk. 2). 9 CDs. 10:47 hrs. Blackstone. 2017. ISBN 9781504759076. $34.95. MYS
Thomas made a splash last year with the first book in her “Lady Sherlock” historical mystery series, A Study in Scarlet Women, introducing the independent and determined Charlotte Holmes, who invents a brother as a screen and sets up shop as a detective, aided by a Mrs. Watson. In the second series entry, Charlotte is again on the case, one involving secret loves and missing persons. Readers of the first novel will especially like the limelight shining on Charlotte’s interesting sister Livia, who has it in mind to write a detective story. Kate Reading narrates, earning an Earphone Award for her silky voice, full of perfectly pitched intonations, which well captures the wit and charm of the series and matches Thomas’s whimsy and intellect.

Watch-Arounds:

Mr. Holmes. 104 min. Bill Condon, dist. by Lionsgate. 2015. Blu-ray UPC 031398227670. $17.99. F
There are plenty of iconic versions of Sherlock Holmes in films and on TV, from actors Jeremy Brett to Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch playing the role. For a different take, consider this film based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, which stars an aging Holmes, played brilliantly by Ian McKellen, who has lost much of his lauded sharpness and those he has loved or known. As he copes with the deterioration of his physical and mental faculties, he finds comfort where he can in old memories and new acquaintances—and in keeping bees. There are mysteries to solve, small that they may be, but that is not really the point.

Sherlock Holmes. 130 min. Guy Ritchie, dist. by Warner Bros. 2013. Blu-ray UPC 883929331840. $24.99. F
Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes is another example of a different kind of iteration of the consulting detective. This film entertains with quick laughs, lots of action, and a great friendship with John Watson (Jude Law). Directed by Ritchie, this slick and fast film with big fights and wide jokes has tons of panache, but it might not please Holmes purists. While some of Holmes’s characteristics carry forward—the smarts, the bond with Watson—a lot falls by the wayside to be replaced by action. The plot spins out as a villain seeks control and Holmes proves his doom, but the style and glee in which it is acted and filmed are the heart of the show.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt is LJ's reader's advisory columnist. She writes The Reader's Shelf, RA Crossroads, Book Pulse, and Wyatt's World columns. She is currently revising The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 3d ed. (ALA Editions, 2018). Contact her at nwyatt@mediasourceinc.com.

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