Monday, January 12, 2015

...however improbable must be the truth


January is the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes' birthday month. His creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle assigned him the 6th of January 1854 as his birthday and, growing up, I have always celebrated this date in my own special way. This year, he just turned a hundred and sixty-one years old, if you can believe it. That's a century and a half of legacy already! Because of such a tantalizing breadth of tales, Holmes and his loyal companion, best friend and bibliographer Dr. John Watson have been adapted to film and television throughout the years and these crime-solving partners were most recognizable in the present for the Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the BBC adaptation Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and, my most favorite of all, Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as a female Watson.

But my Sherlock Holmes will forever be Jeremy Brett of the Granada series in the late nineties because his performance simply captured the eccentric, bipolar and often callous sleuth whose unquenchable thirst for puzzles and off-putting practices and habits have alienated him from the rest of the polite Victorian society. Brett's interpretation of the character was eclectic; bursting with energy one moment and brewing in melancholy and lethargy the next. His Holmes might be a logical automaton but his personality was richer and diverse--unpredictable and playful; grim and despairing. It was timeless for me; Doyle's very vision fully realized on television screen and every time I re-read the original books themselves (composed of four novels and fifty-six short stories in total), Jeremy Brett is who I picture. So to celebrate my Great Detective's birthday for this year, I decided to spend the next four weeks of January reading four Holmesian anthologies written by other authors. My first pick is Two-Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets.

As much as I uphold that Doyle's canon version is the Sherlock Holmes I will forever and dearly hold onto, the editor of this anthology, David Thomas Moore, has a different opinion on the matter. In his introduction, he claimed that the canon itself never appealed to him, most possibly because of the era it was set in and the conventions of the genre that Doyle was writing in. He owed his favorite version of Sherlock Holmes to the "revisionists" of the modern times which is to say he liked his Holmes and Watson in settings and scenarios that hopefully challenge the archetypes they represented for so long, but such stories should still be able to keep their essence and spirit intact in spite of the more liberal interpretations. In Two-Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, the fourteen stories Moore has collected for this volume are guaranteed to be quirky, absurd and imaginative with premises and plots that I myself would never even think of which was why my enjoyment was immense while reading each piece because they are mostly speculative fiction in scope (a very underappreciated genre), even if there are a few of them that just didn't work for me.

Looking back, I actually considered ten out of these fourteen to be well-written enough to sustain interest and excitement, if not instantly unforgettable pieces I would like to re-read again. My notable favorites out of these ten are A Woman's Place in which Mrs. Hudson's role as a landlady has more to its appearance and function than what it seems; The Innocent Icarus where Victorian society is majorly composed of people with superpowers while Holmes belongs to the minority of ordinary mortals, and he has to work the old-fashioned way to develop and expand his intellectual acumen; the leisurely creepy The Lantern Men about the metaphorical significance that ghost hauntings become for people who are either hypersensitive or neglectful of their own lives; and, finally, we have Parallels which is a delightfully meta story concerning teenage girl-versions of Holmes and Watson (Charlotte and Jane) where Jane is a fanfiction writer online who weaves slash fics about Sherlock and John (of whom I assume must be the BBC adaptation characters) as a way to cope with her own internal conflict regarding her relationship with Charlotte.

As for the six other stories, I really did find them oddly endearing in some form or another, and these are Half There/All There set in bohemian sixties of New York Cities where Holmes and Watson are lovers, partaking in recreational drugs and small-scale mysteries; The Adventure of the Speckled Bandana in which a celebrity fakes his own death; Sherlock Holmes as a demon summoned by a Chinese scholar to solve petty crimes was featured in The Final Conjuration; the carnival-themed A Scandal in Hobohemia has Holmes living as a psychic in drag named Sanford "Crash" Haus who meets an African American doctor named Jim Walker; A Study in Scarborough where Holmes and Watson are real people who became celebrities because they made a career out of their cases by adapting them into episodes for a radio show; and All the Single Ladies where a female Sherlock Holmes helps John Watson, a doctor working in an all-girls school, from being implicated in a serial rape case.

The other four are The Rich Man's Hand, The Patchwork Killer, The Small World of 221B and Black Alice.

All fourteen stories in general have Sherlock Holmes and John Watson set in alternate universes with plots so convoluted, endlessly confounding and yet surprisingly entertaining that would either intrigue anyone who is open with such self-indulgent fan-fictions or infuriate one who is less inclined to appreciate this thematic anthology as a concept and collection. I fall on the former category. There are just plenty of consecrated awesome moments in a lot of these pieces that I could not get enough of (and even wish there is a sequel for some of them) so I definitely can recommend this. Regardless, this is still a polarizing volume because, as imaginative as the settings and characterizations are, I could discern that they are mostly written for shock value or for a whimsical effect that may be slightly pandering on a surface level. There aren't enough meat to the stories that you could digest and claim that they're bloody brilliant and substantial.

If you are looking for a collection that featured hard-boiled mysteries and conundrums, then this isn't it, so it's up to you if you still want to try it. Otherwise, this was a fun anthology.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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