Top Ten Sherlock Holmes Pastiches
I’m delighted to present my top ten list of traditionally published pastiches for the venerable Strand Magazine, for which I’m honoured to have written ten of my own Sherlockian tales, which are now collected, for the first time, in The Whole Art of Detection.
- The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. This novel tops my list for a couple of reasons; most importantly, it was the first I ever encountered. Meyer writes of a troubled and struggling Holmes, a man whose addiction terrifies his friend Watson and has led him into dark delusions—ones which can only be addressed by another Victorian luminary, Sigmund Freud. Holmes is at his most flawed and human in these pages. Add a swordfight on top of a train and you have one of the most classic pastiches of all time.
- “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman. Some of the most marvellous pastiches are, ironically, those that take us furthest away from the classic Holmes canon, and this Edgar Award-nominated short story by one of the finest postmodern writers of the age is no exception. It takes place in China at the end of the Great Detective’s career and is an elegy to love, loss, and survival. Told partly through Holmes’s journal and partly through an elderly beekeeper named Old Gao, Mr. Gaiman’s deep love of the originals shines through all the same.
- A Sherlockian Quartet by Rick Boyer. It’s very difficult to find pastiches that replicate the Watsonian voice accurately. Mr, Boyer does, in an uncannily channelled four adventures that ring true even when Giant Rats are involved, and the chains of reasoning he pens for Holmes are impeccable. The first edition hardcover is tough to come by, but never fear—there’s a paperback as well.
- “The Doctor’s Case” by Stephen King. Humor is sadly lacking in many Sherlock Holmes pastiches; the fact that this is one of the most often reproduced in anthologies goes to show that King avoids this error. A severe cat allergy impairs Holmes’s ability to gather clues to a locked room murder mystery, leaving a refreshingly clever Dr. Watson to solve the crime.
- IQ by Joe Ide. An inner city Los Angeles Sherlock, tragically bereft of his beloved Mycroft at an early age? Factor in excellent writing and superb characterization and count me in. This modern day adaptation is a getting a lot of attention for a very good reason. Its compelling, it’s timely, and best of all, it keeps us aware of the fact that Sherlock Holmes was always an outsider—one who belongs to the survivors of crimes and not the establishment.
- The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. While Ms. King considers her New York Times bestselling series to be Mary Russell stories rather than Sherlock Holmes pastiches, her Holmes voice is greatly beloved and her masterful plots are things of beauty. A queen among historical fiction authors, come for the first of Russell’s adventures and stay for the remaining dozen.
- Good Night, Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglass. Let’s have an entry entirely on behalf of the ladies, shall we? This narrative introduces Irene Adler entirely on her own terms, as seen through the eyes of her own biographical Boswell, Nell. Particularly satisfying when one reflects on recent adaptations of Irene as a ne’er-do-well, a patsy, or worse. This Irene holds her ground.
- “The Adventure of the Laughing Jarvey” by Stephen Fry. That the fellow who played Jeeves in the iconic production of Jeeves and Wooster is also a Sherlock Holmes fan in addition to being a terrifyingly skilled linguist surely comes as no surprise, but few have read his tribute to the Great Detective. It’s particularly juicy considering he also played Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and the lovely fact that the crime revolves around Charles Dickens.
- The Final Solution by Michael Chabon. Pulitzer Prize winner Mr. Chabon has long been preoccupied by Sherlock Holmes—since boyhood, in fact, and his elegantly understated tale of a mute Jewish boy and the retired “old man” who now focuses solely on beekeeping is a tribute to his longstanding love of Doyle. It’s a melancholy novel touching the edges of the unspeakable atrocity of the Holocaust, and in the best way, Chabon melds the world of Sherlock Holmes with the grimmer reality of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution.
- “Sherlock Holmes and the Muffin” by Dorothy B. Hughes. Sherlock Holmes is a manifestly prickly fellow, but his easy gentility with children displays his softer side in the canon, and this charming story about a desperately poor little girl by the name of Muffin (her mother once tasted one and considered it the most delicious experience of her life), who works as an under-servant for Mrs. Hudson at Baker Street, perfectly captures that dynamic. Classic hard-boiled novelist Ms. Hughes also neatly captures the domestic details of Victorian life.