Joe Fink Tells Tall Sherlockian Tales by Joseph J. Fink

Review by Chris Redmond

I don't know quite why I never had the good fortune to hear Joe Fink speak at a Sherlockian gathering, except that his heyday seems to have been in one of the periods when I wasn't in a position to travel much for Sherlockian purposes. This slim volume, published by Battered Silicon Dispatch-Box (in 1998, though it has just reached my hands this year), makes me wish I had managed to hear him, and perhaps multiple times. His humour seems to be of the kind that grows on one, rather like the Black Formosa Corruption.

Fortunately the book has a brief introduction, by distinguished Sherlockian Susan Rice, that helps me understand what I have missed: Joe Fink's self-deprecating, owlish delivery of some of the worst puns and endearingly absurd narratives that even a veteran Sherlockian audience has ever experienced. Rambles like "The Tragedy of Tonga" and "A Piscatory Tale" (featuring that distinguished Victorian ichthyologist, Commander Richard Hugo Passwater) are amusing in print; they must have been cripplingly funny when delivered aloud to audiences primed for them (and in some cases, I suspect, primed with alcoholic beverages in particular).

There are 25 narratives in this book, dealing with various Canonical personages and incidents (some of them more than once; Fink seems particularly interested in the amatory life of Mrs. Hudson). Most of them start with some perfectly reasonable Victorian background, then gradually wander off into a sort of Finkian wonderland. The best ones wander back again just in time for a punchline that — by Sherlockian standards at least — might actually be taken seriously.

One is tempted to wish that the Sherlockian world had another Joe Fink (the original died in 2009). But there can be only one — only one Calvin "The Clamp" Calhoun (the greatest English garrotter of them all), and only one Joe Fink. What a good thing this book lives on.