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The right sort of pastiche
on 30 March 1999
There are two sorts of Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The first is written by people who like the original stories and wish there were more of them; so they try to duplicate them, to surreptitiously insert an extra bit of short fiction into the canon. If a writer does this and no more the result will almost certainly be a failure. (This is contingent. It would be nice if there were more Sherolock Holmes stories, and it would be nice if someone could practice direct mimickry; but no-one can.) Conan Doyle himself was reduced to doing this sort of thing by the 1920s, and the results were pallid.
But there is another way. The original stories, as we all know, are peppered with oddities, allusions to untold events, and, more than anything else, flat contradictions. A good pastiche will make a meal of the oddities, fill out the allusions, and, in this case, explain away the contradictions. A good pastiche does not merely augment, but also extends, what has gone before.
So consider "The Final Problem" and "The Valley of Fear". In the former story Holmes mentions - for the first time - the criminal mastermind of all London, Professor Moriarty, who in the end dies. In "The Valley of Fear" Holmes mentions Moriarty as still living, and Watson and Lestrade speak as if Holmes talks about Moriarty all the time. A contradiction right away. Moreover, one would think that "The Napoleon of Crime" would feature more prominently in Watson's tales about London's greatest detective. Moreover still, a penetrating analysis by a good friend of mine reveals the the apparently solid "The Final Problem" to be one of the most ludicrous Holmes stories in existence.
Meyer solves all this by supposing Holmes's cocaine addiction (mentioned in "The Sign of Four") generated paranoid delusions about the perfectly harmless Moriarty; which, of course, necessitates a meeting with Dr. Sigmund Freud. (I have no doubt that Freud in this novel is totally unlike the real Freud, but criticims based on this fact are misguided. Meyer's Freud is exactly the sort of man who inhabits the Sherlock Holmes universe.) Meyer's solution to Moriarty ought to be made official.
The novel suffers from a lack of real meat when Holmes gets around to detecting again, and the kind of climax which looks ahead to the film version rather than behind to the nineteenth century. But all in all, THE pastiche to read.