A Study in Sherlock edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review by Chris Redmond

This collection of 16 stories, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, is not the book that led to the celebrated lawsuit and copyright ruling about whether the Conan Doyle Estate can control how new authors use the character of Sherlock Holmes. That was its sequel from the same editors, last year's In the Company of Sherlock Holmes. The present book, which was published in 2011, does not contain any reference to approval from the Estate, but the word on the street is that its publisher did pay a fee.

The book is subtitled “Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon,” which makes it clear at once that they are not all pastiches in the traditional sense. In fact only one of the 16 tales is in the familiar Watsonian voice, and that one is set in Buffalo and betrays the weaknesses that usually appear when an author tries to connect Holmes too closely to known historical events. One story is told by Mrs. Hudson; one brings in Arthur Conan Doyle as a character; three stories are closely related to the events of canonical tales, including Mrs. Hudson's story and one in which the plot produces a shock of recognition if the title had not already done so.

Others of the stories range much, much more widely. I found two or three of them somewhat difficult to understand, including a complex literary story by Neil Gaiman. He is probably the best-known author in the collection, though Sherlockians will recognize the names of Alan Bradley, Jerry Margolin (with his brother Phillip) and perhaps some of the others. One of the stories is a black-and-white comic; one is structured as a high school student's blog. Several of the stories are only very loosely connected to Sherlock Holmes, being cases — sometimes almost of the hard-boiled variety — of detectives who say their methods have been inspired by Holmes.

Most interestingly, several of the tales in this book are not about Sherlock Holmes but about Sherlockians. This is an important genre, which dates back to Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1940. At least one scholar is supposedly working on a bibliography of such tales, which vary in their realism and in the degree to which they are romans à clef. In this collection, the Margolins' “The Adventure of the Purloined Paget” is high in at least one of those qualities.

For commercial reasons, most Sherlockian pastiches are written at novel length, but Holmes is most successful in the short story format, and this book is excellent and relaxing reading. I definitely recommend it.