It begins with a splendid opening sentence: "My dear Watson, how does one go about kissing a woman?" Apparently Holmes needs to know, for use in a relationship not much less cynical than the Canonical engagement he forms with Agatha the housemaid in "Charles Augustus Milverton". Watson, stunned by the question, tries to explain, then suddenly demonstrates, and finds that he likes it. So does Holmes. And over the course of 13 chapters — although most of the heavy lifting is done in the first two — the old comrades discover that their partnership, their loyalty, their affection, is best expressed carnally. By page 40, Watson is calling Holmes "darling".
It does take a bit of getting used to, for those who aren't well steeped in the "slash" fanfiction that has linked the detective and the doctor in this way for decades. (It has heated up considerably since amateur authors had Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to picture as they created such scenes.) The idea has been around in print for a good while as well, notably in The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1971) and My Dearest Holmes (1988). The former book, and the latter to some extent, undertook to retell Canonical cases in the light of an assumption that Holmes and Watson, and some other characters, are gay. Kissing Sherlock Holmes shares that assumption but uses it as background for a mystery that is entirely new.
And so, in a rhythm not completely different from that of the heterosexually oriented The Sign of the Four, this book finds Watson and Holmes's love scenes alternating with developments in the investigation of espionage — treason — at a splendid country house, Toddington Oaks in Surrey. Much of the gradually unfolding case depends on Holmes's (and sometimes Watson's) reading of personalities and interpersonal relations, including same-sex affairs, but there are also concrete clues and plausible suspects. It is rather a pity that one of the major clues — a shibboleth, one might say — is an impossibility. McKinney and Wylis should perhaps refer to the twelfth chapter of the book of Judges.
Otherwise, it's admirably done. The Watsonian English is not absolutely free of errors, but they are relatively few and relatively benign. Watson the narrator has moved with the times to some degree (using far more contractions than in the Canon, for example, and shorter sentences) but has wonderfully retained his familiar measured and intelligent tone. The authors also avoid the temptation, one that often ensnares pasticheurs, to make their characters, especially the female one, modern folk in Victorian clothes. These characters, of both sexes, are convincingly of their own era.
One other thing: the love scenes, even the sex scenes, are underwritten rather than overwritten. No doubt the authors are aiming for a largely female audience, in an era when such audiences notoriously want passion but shy away from the clinical. Indeed, the only really explicit passage in the book is not ostensibly Watson's, but rather an excerpt, almost comic, from the work of a secret pornographer. This book is definitely readable for male Sherlockians as well as female, provided of course that they keep an open mind about the possibility of eros in Baker Street.
Copyright © Chris Redmond 2012