The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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(*) Introduction by J.J.Adams: a frank confession regarding his editorial ambition, as well as clarification that this book consists of almost entirely reprints.
(*) A Sherlockiana Primer: a very good introduction to the Gaslit world of Holmes & Watson for the novice and the naive.
1) "THE DOCTOR'S CASE" by Stephen King: a stunning story, which could have been very much probable.
2) "The Horror of the Many Faces" by Tim Lebbon: a sharp decline after the high of the first story, this one is improbable (with all its Lovecraftian under/over-tones) as well as rather unwarrantably long.
3) "The Case of the Bloodless Sock" by Anne Perry: a very good story, and nothing 'improbable' as such in the story or the characters.
4) "THE ADVENTURE OF THE OTHER DETECTIVE" by Bradley H. Sinor: improbability strikes with a vengeance as Dr. Watson (and the reader) visits an alternate reality where Professor Moriarty occupies 221B Baker Street, accompanied by Sergeant Murray, and the inevitable happens, er..., inevitably.
5) "A Scandal in Montreal" by Edward D. Hoch: unfortunately, this is one of the poorer stories, taking Holmes to Canada, involving Irene Adler (the lady must have taken serious offense at such a poor portrayal as happens in this story), despite originating from the pen of one of the most prolific & consistent mystery-writers.
6) "THE ADVENTURE OF FIELD THEOREMS" by Vonda N. McIntyre: a superb fun' ride, and after the stories in No. 1 & 4, this one lightens up the reading substantially.
7) "The Adventure of the Death-Fetch" by Darrell Schweitzer: an enjoyable story, totally improbable, but not bad.
8) "The Shocking Affair of the Dutch Steamship Friesland" by Mary Robinette Kowal: neither that shocking, nor that enjoyable, merely readable.
9) "The Adventure of the Mummy's Curse" by H.Paul Jeffers: improbable because it claims Watson to be a Master Mason, a mediocre story that involved a mystery which could have been easily solved by Inspector Lestrade had the case been brought to him.
10) "THE THINGS THAT SHALL COME UPON THEM" by Barbara Roden: a brilliant and dazzlingly competent story that brings together the pioneer Consulting & Occult detectives (Sherlock Holmes & Flaxman Low, respectively) to solve a mystery that had begun with one of the greatest horror stories in literature ("Casting The Runes") written by the greatest ghost-story writer (M.R.James) and solves the story without disrespecting anybody, and yet with just enough ambivalence at the end to challenge the reader to draw the conclusion.
11) "Murder to Music" by Anthony Burges: another sensationalist drama involving Watson treating obscure East Asian diseases in London (according to "The Dying Detective" he literally knew nothing about them), attempted assassination of the Spanish Monarch inside a train in London by using bombs that would explode at certain musical pitch, and Holmes learning about Spanish-inter-feuds during his stay at Marrakesh(???)and later publicly insulting Watson, four improbable things in a pretty mediocre story, which in itself is a feat!
12) "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjustor" by Stephen Baxter: a 'fun' story, completely improbable, but enjoyable in an off-hand manner.
13) "MRS. HUDSON'S CASE" by Laurie R. King: a jewel-like story where the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson steals the thunder in her own style.
14) "THE SINGULAR HABITS OF WASPS" by Geoffrey A. Landis: science-fiction, mystery, horror, Holmes and Jack The Ripper, and all in less than 20 pages! You really can't have any more 'fun'.
15) "The Affair of the 46th Birthday" by Amy Myers: another mediocre story involving attempted assassination, Medici Ring, Russia and Italy (at least it spared France or Germany, or were they 'covered' in story no. 11, not sure, really).
16) "The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey" by Peter Tremayne: an average story, definitely improbable (Holmes falling in love with a villainous girl, who, after killing her father [THE James Philimore, who, after returning to his home to collect his umbrella, was never seen again], marries Professor Moriarty, and allows all the property to pass on to the Professor), definitely NOT re-readable.
17) "THE VALE OF THE WHITE HORSE" by Sharyn McCrumb: a superlative and gothic story involving family-curses and murder most heinous.
18) "The Adventure of the Dorset Street Lodger" by Michael Moorcock: good, readable, but the end could have been predicted by any Sherlockian long-long ago.
19) "The Adventure of the Lost World" by Dominic Green: a 'fun' story, with adequate mixture of humour and gore, throwing couple of Allosaurus in-between!
20) "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece" by Barbara Hambly: this story is a classic example of British cuisine, where several good ingredients (Holmes & Carnaki) mixed with a lot of labour (almost 20 pages) and good intent (to spice up Lovecraftian horror with several shades of 'The Great Beast' incorporated for effect, nothing less), end up in a pathetically tasteless food, simply because the author didn't know when to stop and where to allow the readers to draw their own conclusion, unlike the one written by Barbara Roden, which is a study in restraint.
21) "Dynamics of a Hanging" by Tony Pi: this is a vile story which is completely improbable, and devoid of any redeeming feature, despite involving Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle who has been murdered by Moriarty to ensure the secrecy of Moriarty's cipher, and Lewis Carroll, who gets Moriarty evicted from University without any proof and simply by spreading vile rumours. See now why I am so eager to bring a blunt instrument in immediate contact with Mr. Pi on a priority basis?
22) "Merridew of Abominable Memory" by Chris Roberson: improbable, and not-so-much fun.
23) "Commonplaces" by Naomi Novik: hmmm..... Holmes loves Watson (never expressed, but expected to be reciprocated nevertheless, leading to their "estrangement" during the hiatus since the good Doctor had got married), Irene Norton locates Holmes with a minimum of search, Holmes makes love with Irene, and Irene rediscovers herself. Really, how damnably improbable can a pastiche be? Greater men (& women) have already commented that stupidity has no limits, etc. etc.
24) "The Adventure of the Pirates of Devil's Cape" by Rob Rogers: a solid, enjoyable, and improbable story. Big relief after that ****** **** from Ms. Novik.
25) "The Adventure of the Green Skull" by Mark Valentine: a readable, poignant story without much of mystery or improbability.
26) "The Human Mystery" by Tanith Lee: yes, a masterly touch in this story, although I doubt even a misogynist like Holmes could have understood things after such a long time, perhaps that's what makes this story improbable.
27) "A STUDY IN EMERALD" by Neil Gaiman: a classic, and if you are yet to encounter this take on alternate universe, then I would recommend you to purchase the book and plunge head-first in this story.
28) "You See But You Do Not Observe" by Robert J. Sawyer: a very good story with a very strong dosage of science-fiction, if not science, and with a certain pathos.
Overall, out of 28 stories there are 8 superlative stories (a staggering percentage, let me state), 11 enjoyable stories, 3 moderately good stories, 4 clunkers, and 2 worthy of consigning their creators to some particular literary hell). To sum up, quite good. Recommended.
The reader's (or in my case listener's) enjoyment will probably depend a bit on familiarity with the Doyle stories. Some authors seem to use crib-sheets of clichés, rather than canon as a basis. Thus Irene Adler is in one story the *only* thing able to coax Holmes out of retirement (to America, naturally), and in another Watson still reels in surprise at very basic deductions by Holmes, despite them having known one another by this point for decades. Comically, a third of the stories make painstaking reference to Holmes filling his pipe from a Persian slipper on the mantelpiece - a detail that (I believe I am correct in saying) is only actually mentioned once by Doyle himself. But these are the things that the writers seem to "Know" about Holmes, and they cling to such paraphernalia like crutches, rather than just making sure they get the style and characterisation right.
But some of the stories really are lovely, a superb melding of Doyle's style with the weird and the implausible. Most fall into the format of "Holmes+": Holmes+Lovecraft, Holmes+Time Travel, Holmes+Hypnosis, etc. The best work both as satisfying detective stories as well as genre tales, and the worst at least maintain your interest for the genre-mashing. A highlight combines Holmes with psychic detective Flaxman Low: they investigate the strange tale in tandem, comparing and contrasting their methods, before providing parallel solutions (one natural, and one supernatural). Another excellent story combines Holmes, and the fog filled London streets, with the chest-bursting scifi horror of Alien - impressive and effective in equal measure.
The only sour note is the continual presence of the Editor, who introduces each story... often rather poorly. "This story involves parallel universes," he says. Well that's the solution to that one then. This is no doubt fine on the written page, as one can simply skip these introductions, but in an audiobook it is infuriating.
Simon Vance (narrating) is on excellent form, with a very traditional take on Holmes and Watson. He would not be out of place reading a collection of the original stories, and this grounds the pastiches nicely before they fly off into stranger realms. Flosnik on the other hand, though able, is less successful. She reads the stories in the anthology that have female narrators (good plan), but then parades through Italian, Scottish, and Somerset accents with little success. Obviously that is a requirement of the stories, and not a strange whim on her own part, but it does make one wonder why she was cast.
At 22 hours and over 30 stories, you should treat this as a lucky dip. Variable quality, but worth it for the highlights.
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