I love me a good pastiche. I don't know that anyone's done the actual research, but I wager that Sherlock Holmes is the most often pastiched character in the entirety of fiction literature, more so than Dracula, more so than Tarzan. So, the population of craptacular, non-canonical Sherlock Holmes literature is vast. But, here and there, we do get a sprinkling of the good pastiche. Three authors instantly come to mind - Laurie R. King, Nicholas Meyer, Fred Saberhagen - to which respective and unique takes on Holmes I have absolutely thrilled.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE CROSSOVERS CASEBOOK is glorious fan gratification, a fun and sometimes clever anthology comprising fourteen new stories, in which Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson rub elbows with some of their contemporaries, both historical and fictional. A percentage of these contemporaries are colorful fellow sleuths, while others are significant inasmuch as they incur one's bump of historical curiosity. Not all fourteen stories impress equally, and how much you like a given story will depend, in part, on how devoted a Sherlockian you are or how ardent a fan you are of obscure pulp literature.
I prefer three stories above all others. Win Scott Eckert's "The Adventure of the Fallen Stone" is an awesome mash-up which has Holmes joining forces with two lesser known detectives, both of whom had been bandied about as the next Sherlock Holmes. Except that they pale in the presence of the original. Joe Gentile's "The Secret of Grant's Tomb" unites Holmes with one of my all-time favorite brilliant curmudgeons, Professor Augustus Van Dusen, alias "The Thinking Machine." If you haven't ever read "The Problem of Cell 13," you, my friend, are missing out. Barbara Hambly's pitch-perfect "The Adventure of the Sinister Chinaman" tells of Holmes solving a nerve-wracking child abduction case in which he receives invaluable assistance from a certain wonderful wizard.
If nothing else, hopefully, this anthology convinces readers to explore neglected authors like Jacques Futrelle and Sax Rohmer and Maurice Leblanc. If there were to be a second volume, I've got my hopes pinned on Holmes perhaps encountering Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner, E.W. Hornung's dashing gentleman thief A.J. Raffles, Ernest Bramah's blind detective Max Carrados, or G.K. Chesterton's unassuming but devilishly insightful Father Brown. And since the Strand magazine published new Sherlock Holmes mysteries up until 1927, Agatha Christie's own cadre of clue chasers would also qualify as contemporaries. How fun would that be, Holmes and Poirot exercising their little grey cells together?
The fourteen stories:
- "Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World" (written by Martin Powell) - During World War I, when Professor Challenger vanishes and with him his secret formula for a super metal alloy which could turn the tides of war in Britain's favor, the Prime Minister deploys a reluctant and retired Holmes to the fabulous Lost World. Holmes and Watson are accompanied by Challenger's exceptional daughter and by the legendary adventurer, Lord John Roxton, who provides sharpshooting and guide duties.
- "The Scion of Fear" (written by Christopher Sequeira) - The follow-up to THE SIGN OF FOUR!
- "The Petrifying Well" (by Martin Gately) - Young Ned Lawrence - years before he would become "Lawrence of Arabia" - persuades Holmes to look into the sudden, mysterious death of his best friend's brother.
- "The Adventure of the Fallen Stone" (by Win Scott Eckert) - Someone's been brushing up on Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton family tree. Heavily leaning on Doyle's "His Last Bow" and Farmer's THE ADVENTURE OF THE PEERLESS PEER, this one has Holmes and Watson embarking on an enterprise which sets them once more on the trail of the slippery German agent Von Bork. Fans of obscure detective fiction may wet themselves: Holmes and Watson are accompanied by Sexton Blake, Harry Dickson (alias the "American Sherlock Holmes"), and Isis Vanderhoek, enigmatic daughter of Sax Rohmer's Dream Detective Moris Klaw.
- "The Secret of Grant's Tomb" (by Joe Gentile) - In London, Professor Van Dusen's right hand man, Hutchinson Hatch, enlists Sherlock Holmes in locating the missing Thinking Machine.
- "The Haunted Manor" (by Howard Hopkins) - High brow detection meets low comedy. A malodorous, inebriated and obnoxious Calamity Jane drops in on 221B Baker Street and claims to be as great a detective as Sherlock Holmes. Her sleuthing skills are put to the test when Holmes takes on a case involving ghosts and a prophesied death. It's pretty amusing to see Calamity Jane coming on to both Holmes and Watson, much to their genteel alarm. But does she solve the case before Holmes does?
- "The Adventure of the Sinister Chinaman" (by Barbara Hambly) - This is my absolute favorite in this anthology, featuring an inspired team-up that had my jaw dropping once I sussed out who Professor Diggs was. When a Chinese magician's stage act results in the disappearance of a little girl, Holmes and Watson race to locate her. They're abetted by Professor Diggs, an amiable balloonist and prestidigitator whom some have labeled a madman and a charlatan.
- "The Folly of Flight" (by Matthew P. Mayo) - Maurice Leblanc's notorious gentleman burglar, Arsène Lupin, witnesses a murder and wires a plea for Sherlock Holmes' presence. A satisfactory thriller, although it could've done with more cat and mouse games between Holmes and Lupin.
- "Sherlock Holmes and the Other Eye" (by Richard Dean Starr) - When the "Wickedest Man Alive," the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, is sought by Scotland Yard and by the Pinkerton Agency for murder and the theft of a blue diamond, he skedaddles over to 221B Baker Street.
- "The Adventure of the Magician's Meetings" (by Larry Engle and Kevin VanHook) - Besides a stage magician and escape artist of some good repute, Harry Houdini had also dabbled in debunking ghosts and exposing mediums as frauds. Except that, while on a tour in England, Houdini's experience at one seance is so particularly troubling and baffling that he has no recourse but to call on Sherlock Holmes.
- "The Adventure of the Ethical Assassin" (by Matthew Baugh) - Holmes and Watson scamper to prevent the murder of the hereditary King of Bohemia (whom you may recall from "A Scandal in Bohemia") at the hands of the Assassination Bureau, Ltd. (from Jack London's original same-titled book). No Irene Adler in this one. Instead, we get acquainted some with the... other woman, Queen Clotilde, whom the King of Bohemia had married. Of some interest is the dialogue of ethics between Holmes and the formidable chief of the Assassination Bureau, Ivan Dragomiloff.
- "The Adventure of the Imaginary Nihilist" (by Will Murray) - Colonel Richard Henry Savage, a sometimes author of high adventure and who may have inspired the pulp figure Doc Savage, hires Holmes to unearth an elusive Russian woman, she whom he had based the lead female character in his debut novel MY OFFICIAL WIFE. This isn't one of my favorites.
- "The House on Moreau Street" (by Don Roff) - Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Thorndyke each carry on their respective investigations which bring to light a deadly legacy of the infamous gene-tamperer, Dr. Moreau. Really, this is more of a lurid pulp adventure tale than a cerebral mystery, although we note Dr. Thorndyke's application of forensic science to advance his own investigation.
- "The Adventure of the Lost Specialist" (by Christopher Sequeira) - A nightmarish tale of the supernatural in which Holmes and Watson are trapped in an alternate dimension and face their sinister doppelgangers, as well as the return of the diabolical Professor Moriarty.