The Final Solution by Walter J. Harmidarow

Review by Chris Redmond

This 15-year-old short novel by Walter J. Harmidarow (it was published by the Battered Silicon Dispatch-Box in 1998) is better in some significant ways than most of the Sherlockian “pastiches” I have read in recent years. For one thing, it is written in good English. The characters speak like human beings, arguably even like Victorian Englishmen, and the narration in Watson's voice is very clear and readable, although perhaps a little too modern, lacking the elegant periods we recognize in the authentic Canon. There are also repeated errors regarding names and titles, an aspect of Holmes's world that contemporary North Americans simply seem unable to master. Still, if everything that was marketed to Sherlockians these days were this readable, the world would be a much finer place.

The Final Solution also has the considerable merit of being set in London of the 1890s, not (say) Dallas of the 1960s, or even Vienna on the eve of the First World War. That is to say, it's firmly within the period of the authentic Holmes, where the detective and his biographer can be shown behaving as we know them to behave, in the environment that is an important part of the reason we read and enjoy Holmes in the first place. For some reason, however, the date is specified as 1892, a year in which Holmes was away on his Great Hiatus and believed, even by Watson, to be dead. Since other matters are handled deftly, this oddity may be taken as the author's acknowledgement that we are in an alternative, not entirely canonical, reality.

Harmidarow earns extra points by eschewing celebrity cameo roles — no Oscar Wilde, no Randolph Churchill, no Helena Blavatsky, just Holmes, Watson, Moriarty and an interesting and plausible Lestrade, plus characters created explicitly for this narrative (including Crosby the banker, with his red leech). There is also, thank goodness, no Irene Adler.

Harmidarow does allow himself one of the indulgences we have come to expect from pastiche authors, however: he delves more deeply into the personal lives and psychology of Holmes and Watson than the canonical chronicles ever venture to do. In this instance it's Watson, mostly. The poor fellow is emotionally buffeted as he has never been buffeted before, what with the arrest and imprisonment of Holmes, as well as the kidnapping and then death of his wife Mary. (That explains Watson's "sad bereavement", referred to in "The Empty House".) It would not be true to say that everything ends well, but stout Watson being stout Watson, and brilliant Holmes being brilliant Holmes, at least some justice is eventually done.

One unfortunate aspect of The Final Solution is its title, a phrase that is hard for today's reader to encounter without thinking about the Nazi extermination camps of the 1940s. Such an interpretation is not corroborated by anything in the story, and it would appear that Harmidarow merely meant his "final solution" to complement Watson's existing "Final Problem". (The first chapter is a skilful reworking of the famous encounter between Holmes and Moriarty at Baker Street.) A different title might have been preferable: The Incarcerated Detective, perhaps.