Author: Loren D. Estleman

Publisher: Tyrus Books

ISBN: 10: 1-4405-4520-0 (Kindle)

Sherlock Holmes,’ notes author Loren D. Estleman, ‘Is forever green, and startlingly cutting-edge to those who discover him for the first time’. Indeed, few other fictional characters have captured the collective imagination quite like that intrepid detective from Victorian England, and fewer still been the subject of as much fan fiction as he continues to attract. ‘The Perils of Sherlock Holmes’ is Estleman’s own contribution to the universe of Holmes pastiche – a collection of short stories and essays that explore and re-imagine the world’s greatest sleuth.

The stories in the book make interesting connections between Holmes and several real historic figures who would have been contemporaries of the great detective. So we have Holmes meeting people as diverse as English adventurer Richard Burton, American lawman Wyatt Earp, and Sax Rohmer, the author of the ‘Fu Manchu’ books. In a lighter vein, Estleman even engineers a meeting between Holmes and the man who was once Tiny Tim in Dickens’ classic ‘ A Christmas Carol’!

The Adventure of the Arabian Knight’, sets the pace of the book, with  Holmes  helping Sir Richard Burton retrieve priceless documents from a thieving apprentice, and encounter  an innovative new device called the camera (albeit in a clunky early avatar). ‘The Riddle of the three Monkeys’ has Holmes confront the inspiration behind the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu and put his knowledge of Oriental culture and iconography to good use. ‘The Adventure of the Coughing Dentist’ has Holmes leave restful retirement for an arduous journey to the Wild West, to help Wyatt Earp and his friend, Doc Holliday. My one grouse with Holmes’ creator, the brilliant Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would be his rather stodgy portrayal of women. With the exception of Irene Adler, the only woman  ever to outwit Holmes, the Sherlockian Canon is peppered with women who are little more than background shadows (except, of course, when they are helpless victims seeking Holmes aid). ‘Dr. and Mrs. Watson at Home’ offers some redress  with its cheeky  portrayal of Mrs. Watson, not to mention  that arch criminal, Moriarty .

Not all the stories in this collection have satisfying conclusions; in ‘The Devil and Sherlock Holmes’ ,our intrepid detective has a brush with the supernatural and chooses prudence over a dramatic denouement. ‘The Serpent’s Egg’, intended as the first chapter of a book that was never finished, also leaves readers  midway in a tantalizing story rife with possibilities.

In the essays collected in ‘Perils..’ Estleman examines other fascinating aspects of the Holmes enigma. Chief among these is the detective’s tireless companion and scribe, Dr. Watson himself, often relegated to the background in cinematic and literary interpretations of the original stories.  ‘On the Significance of Boswells’ seeks to restore to Watson some of the dignity stripped away by the numerous  poor cinematic portrayals the character has suffered over the years,that variously suggest he was a philandering gambler, a comical figure of ridicule, or romantically involved with Holmes. Watson, in Estleman’s opinion, is “..the ballast upon whose reassuring weight Holmes came to rely more and more as the gaslight era drew to a close.”

 In ‘Was Sherlock Holmes the Shadow?’, an article originally written for the Baker Street Journal, Estleman light heartedly examines the similarities between his muse and another iconic figure in popular culture – the mysterious vigilante Shadow, first encountered in a radio show voiced by Orson Welles himself. After all, Holmes in nothing if not adaptable, successfully changing voice, mannerisms and dress to slip effortlessly into new environs. 

 ‘Perils..’ is elegant , well written and entertaining, both as pastiche and for  its re examination of some beloved characters. Estleman effortlessly captures Watson’s (or should I say Doyle’s) voice and eye for detail in his stories and, most of all, the enduring bond between Holmes and his faithful scribes. ‘Perils..’ is a book I would recommend both to seasoned Sherlockians and the newly hatched Holmes fan alike.

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