Review of the Week: The Whole Art of Detection
The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes
By Lyndsay Faye
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson have inspired generations of writers to continue adding to their adventures long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set down his pen. Lyndsay Faye is one of the latest in a long line of authors to expand the number of short stories featuring the dynamic detective duo. The Whole Art of Detection consists of fifteen short stories, divided chronologically into four sections: the pre-Baker Street years, the early years of Holmes and Watson’s investigative partnership, the years after Holmes faked his own death, and the “retirement” years. Some of the stories are inspired by references in the original canon, such as “Colonel Warburton’s Madness,” based on a fleeting reference in “The Engineer’s Thumb.”
It should be noted that several of these short stories were first published in The Strand, and indeed, some of the stories contain little in-jokes and references to the publication (or at least the original British-published version). The publication is mentioned on at least one occasion, in one case with a quip that practically qualifies as a wink at the reader. A couple of the stories are new creations, though, published for the first time in this anthology.
There are a handful of recurring themes throughout the stories. One of the most prominent ones is the role of women in society during Holmes’ time. On multiple occasions, women chafe under the strictures of the Victorian era, or are the victims of men who seek to smother them, and the ladies therefore devise some cunning plans in order to escape. In each of these cases, Holmes’ sympathies are with the women who are trying to look out for themselves. In one later story, Holmes expresses regret for the way he handled the solution to “A Case of Identity,” where he denied telling the whole truth of the matter to a young woman out of his belief that certain revelations would be too unpleasant for her to handle.
Some of the stories take a slightly unconventional approach to the narratives. In some cases, the story is told through diary entries or letters, and in other cases, Holmes himself takes care of the narration (though Watson still narrates most of the stories). The ultimate effect is that Faye tries to delve a little deeper into the psychologies and consciences of the two iconic characters, exploring their thoughts on their world, their roles in it, and how they feel about their careers and the cases they’ve solved.
These stories demonstrate Faye’s extreme fondness for the original canon. Unlike some modern authors who continue Holmes’s adventures, Faye celebrates the classic aspects of the stories, without feeling the need to change or rearrange certain character traits or habits, add new perspectives, or inflate certain plot points out of all proportion. All non-Doyle Holmes stories are fanfiction, and Faye’s work emphasizes the aspects that created so many Holmes fans in the first place.