Pursuing Sherlock Holmes by Bill Mason

Review by Chris Redmond

Bill Mason of Nashville is one of the Sherlockian world's celebrity speakers, known not only for his charming accent but for a wry sense of humour and a willingness to follow whimsical chains of reasoning wherever they may happen to go. This small book, published in 2010, collects a number of his essays and other writings, some of which probably have also been delivered to live audiences.

They are of, shall we say, varying levels of seriousness. One or two are important contributions to scholarship and our understanding of the Sherlock Holmes tales. For example, “A Chill on the Moor: Sex and Sadism in The Hound of the Baskervilles” develops themes that fit well with the usual terms in which the story is discussed, such as science-versus-superstition and modern-versus-ancient, to examine the theory of atavism, the likelihood of rape and the tendency (on the part of Stapleton) towards sadism, bisexuality, and other kinks.

The most important essay in the book is “A Tale from the Crypt: Unearthing Dracula in Sherlock Holmes,” which would appear to be the first exploration of the idea that “The Illustrious Client” is a vampire story. Count Dracula and Baron Gruner are each “a murderous aristocrat from central Europe,” says Mason; their powers are directed against women, and are foiled only by an expert and his medical colleague — the details, when enumerated, are striking. (The whiff of vampirism in “The Illustrious Client” has since been detected also by Canadian scholar Robert Eighteen-Bisang in scholarly writings and a 2013 volume of what he presents as vampire stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.)

But one must not neglect Mason's essay “Deeper Shades,” an analysis some twenty pages long of Sherlock Holmes's dressing-gowns in various hues. Apparently the explanation of the variously blue, purple and mouse dressing-gown (not to mention red in one important pastiche and, I kid you not, “lavender” in a novel that has just passed before my eyes) is more complicated than the long-ago observation that blue fabric fades over the years. Way, way more complicated.

I was a little disappointed at how slight this book is, but nevertheless glad that through it, Bill Mason's ideas and flights of fancy are available to a wider audience than merely those who can hear him in person.