Sunday, February 8, 2015

The human and inhumane devices of the mind and heart

 
"There must be a never-ending supply of Holmes stories just as there must be air and water. And they must be the finest Holmes stories we can create. Not the true quill of the Master perhaps, but still nourishing to a parched and hungry soul."

This is the final anthology I'm reviewing for the Sherlock Holmes birthday month last January which managed to bleed into this month as well because I was preoccupied with other readings so I had to take breaks for the last two books in my SH roster. But I eventually did finish reading all of them and now I'm officially ending with yet another collection edited by Michael Kurland, Sherlock Holmes: The American Years. It's worth mentioning that this is a re-read from six years ago which meant that the material is once again fresh in my eyes and I can honestly say that I barely remember a lot of these stories at all. Only one really struck me as a standout.

The ten stories included in this volume have operated with a premise based on the idea that the Great Detective has travelled to America; and what adventures he may have had during the course of his stay there. It was briefly mentioned in the canon that Holmes did find his way in the colonies before, and that inference should definitely breed a new set of possible scenarios as to why and how. Naturally, it could be because of a murder mystery or an ongoing investigation of any crime that is intriguing enough to draw in Holmes which was more or less what these stories offered. Another element common in all these tales is the inclusion of real-life historical figures for Holmes to interact with. In a sense, The American Years can be readily considered a collection of pastiche. Almost all of them too are origin stories pertaining to how Holmes found his vocation and calling as a detective.

I only considered four of them my favorites and these are My Silk Umbrella by Darryl Brock where Holmes meets Mark Twain, author of Tom Saywer's and Huckleberry Finn's Adventures during a baseball game and hilarity ensues; The Old Senator by Steve Hockensmith where Holmes is a stage actor who encounters William Gilette, the most memorable actor himself who played him a decade or so later on stage; The American Adventure by Gary Lovisi where Joseph Bell, the doctor Conan Doyle based Holmes on originally, was actually his mentor and friend after all; and The Curse of Edwin Booth by Carole Bugge where the titular actor is haunted by his brother's Lincoln assassination but struggles to eventually overcome that notoriety through the help of a certain aspiring English detective.

The rest of the stories are fairly decent although a few can be grating because of its alienating quality, most especially if certain historical facts go way over your head while reading. We have Inga Sigerson Weds by Richard A. Lupoff in which Sherlock Holmes has a older sister; The Sacred White Elephant of Mandalay by Michael Mallory; The Reluctant Assassin by Peter Tremayne that makes use of the Irish civil wars as a backdrop; Cutting for Sign by Rhys Bowen which is a proper Western tale where Holmes learns deductive reasoning from a Native American named Shadow Wolf; The Stagecoach Detective which is another Western but this time it deals with a female cast; and The English Senor by Martha Randall set in Mexico where an elderly woman is the POV character and imparts a young Holmes with a lesson never to underestimate the ways of the human heart.

It's weird for me to rate this the lowest of all the four anthologies I've read, considering I remember enjoying this a lot six years ago when I read it for the first time. I suppose it just didn't age well for me. Nevertheless, the aforementioned four favorite stories are worth checking out so this is still a commendable collection. I agree with the introduction I quoted for this review that there must be an endless supply of new Holmesian stories for generations to come!


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

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