Holmes for the Holidays

Spend the yuletide at 221-B Baker Street, where the library is stocked with new books about Sherlock


Though Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his last Sherlock Holmes story in 1927, it did nothing to stem the tide of tales about the detective, any more than when the author shoved his creation off Reichenbach Falls in an effort to exterminate him 34 years before. Doyle may have grown weary of Holmes, but the public hadn't. Its clamor for more Sherlock led the writer to return to 221-B Baker Street in 1901 and add another 32 stories and two novels to the two dozen tales and two novels he'd already penned.

Indeed, the fascination with Holmes was so great that even before Doyle himself resurrected the character, the Great Detective was given new life by other writers, mostly in brief pieces that parodied the character but also a few pastiches that aped the style of the original stories. And each year, more writers joined the game. By the time Doyle bid Sherlock farewell for good, the sleuth was regularly engaged in cases concocted by others, in print, onstage, and on film.

Now, more than 125 years since Holmes' debut, hundreds if not thousands of adventures with the detective have been added to Doyle's canon. In 2015 alone, fans have been treated to dozens of new novels and stories starring Sherlock or characters from the original tales (Sherlock's brother Mycroft, evil Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler); the film Mr. Holmes, with Ian McKellen as an aged Sherlock keeping bees in Sussex; a third season of CBS TV's Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Holmes in New York City; and even some coloring books. (Those in Central Texas also had the chance to see the detective onstage in Penfold Theatre's The Hound of the Baskervilles.) And for many, the most significant thing about the start of 2016 is a new installment of the BBC series Sherlock, premiering New Year's Day on PBS, followed by cinema showings Jan. 5 & 6. (See "Sherlock on the Big Screen.") This one-off titled The Abominable Bride will give us not only our first look at Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes since February of 2014, but our first look at him as the Victorian version of the character. We've been waiting ages for this, fellow Sherlockians, and these last few days may be the hardest of all to wait, so the Chronicle has assembled some recent releases about our favorite detective to help you pass the time.


The Sherlock Holmes Book

The Sherlock Holmes Book

DK Books, 352 pp., $25

"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear."

The great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes tells this to his companion Dr. John Watson in the very first Holmes short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Scandal in Bohemia," published in The Strand Magazine in 1891.

You want to make things easier to see? To encourage, through visual clarity, practical observation? Then the graphic design long practiced in books published by Dorling Kindersley will be among your best gambits.

Of late, the esteemed house of DK has been releasing books that are more textual than pictorial (although no less beautifully designed and containing a wealth of images): The Business Book, The Religions Book, The Shakespeare Book, and so on. And now here's the latest in this series of "Big Ideas Simply Explained," concerning the popular Sherlock and his author and the adventures of both of them – real and imagined.

Fancy a rich parcel of biographical background on Doyle? Done. How about a story-by-story explication, complete with informative tangential sidebars, of the entire canon? Indeed. And you'd also like a consideration of the late-Victorian times in which the tales are set, and a guide to the fictional and real-life detectives that preceded Holmes – and the underpinnings of the methods they practiced? Splendid. And what of all those homages that have been created by others, the myriad expansions of the original mythos via books and movies and TV shows and plays and video games? Would you like an exploration of those as well? Sterling.

If that's the sort of thing you'll likely enjoy for years, especially when it's contained in a single well-bound volume that will add a literary elegance to your favorite coffee table ... then, my dear reader, you've come to the right place and the name of that place is The Sherlock Holmes Book.


Sherlock Chronicles

Sherlock Chronicles

by Steve Tribe
Dey Street, 320 pp., $29.99

What chemistry of people, ideas, a moment of time converges to allow a specific story to impact a huge swath of the populace? Confronted with mysterious success, a fan has but two options: Enjoy the product without investigating process, or dive deep into the creation myth and hope that by better understanding how what you loved came to be, you can better cherish it.

Sherlock Chronicles is for those staunchly in the latter category. A book episode of How It's Made for the hit BBC detective drama, Chronicles slavishly follows the show's production process from pitch to the completion of its third and most recent season. For people like myself with only a piddling understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a television show, the asides with various designers and crew members offer an intriguing look behind the curtain. Most engaging to me were the a-ha moments Tribe recounts: showrunners Moffat and Gatiss' modernization concept legitimized by the fact that Watson could still be a veteran from the war in Afghanistan as he was in the original stories, director Toby Haynes' encounter with a double-decker bus leading to the realization that the exterior of St. Bart's hospital was an ideal location for the Reichenbach Fall stunt, the choice of suit helping make Andrew Scott such a dapper and disturbing Moriarty.

There's little to discover about the people, however. All the interviewees are perfectly polite but rarely stray from their talking points. There's nary a page on Sherlock's oft-discussed homoeroticism (save Gatiss' distressingly flip comment on the show's willingness to play "the gay joke"), much less introspection into the inherent challenges of bringing an older work into a contemporary setting where social norms have greatly altered. This, coupled with a staid layout and the fact the photos included, while beautiful, are overwhelmingly stills from the episodes rather than candids, leaves the book with a clinical air. The best behind-the-scenes books leave the reader with a sense of intimacy with the creators. Not so here: A little too much like Watson, Tribe sees but does not observe the magic behind a show so many people have grown to love.


Mycroft Holmes

Mycroft Holmes

by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Titan Books, 336 pp., $25.99

Arthur Conan Doyle may be dead and gone, but the world of his characters is ever expanding. As with contemporary adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft, Doyle's universe has moved beyond its creator's context, growing to embrace modern mores. In a compassionate, modernity-minded context, Doyle's secondary characters shine, as demonstrated by Mycroft Holmes: A Novel, released earlier this year.

Penned by athlete, philanthropist, writer, and Holmes enthusiast Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and writer Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes is no small addition to the Holmes canon. The novel takes one of Doyle's most fascinating and least explored characters on a wild ride to the Caribbean. His mission: to locate the nefarious actors behind widespread disappearances off the coast of Trinidad. 

Mycroft, at 23, has just joined the war office; his travels to Trinidad are his first excursion away from England. When reports of supernaturally murdered children reach Mycroft and his fiancée, each feels compelled to solve the mystery. Mycroft sets off with his cigar-dealing friend Douglas, and together they discover a monstrous plot that fits right in with the immediate post-Civil War setting. 

I found it refreshing to see a Mycroft engaging passionately with his social conscience, rather than the one traditionally portrayed: overweight, out-of-touch, manipulating foreign affairs and his brother Sherlock from an armchair. Abdul-Jabbar's Mycroft is young, naive, in love, compassionate, athletic, and just as clever as his brother, without any of the same sociopathic tendencies. Mycroft Holmes is a fine addition to the canon – compelling, well-plotted, and firmly in possession of a social conscience.


The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories

Edited by Otto Penzler
Pantheon, 816 pp., $40

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the shade of Arthur Conan Doyle (ardent spiritualist that he was, he's bound to survive on some astral plane) must be the most flattered soul in the afterlife. The Great Detective is such an inspired creation – his phenomenal attention to detail and deductive faculties so highly developed as to make Holmes mythic – that he's drawn others to write about him, whether continuing his adventures or lampooning them, since about a minute after A Study in Scarlet hit print. That's one of the lessons gleaned from this stupendous collection of tales starring Sherlock and his many clones. Editor Otto Penzler has included spoofs of Doyle's detective from as early as the 1890s and 1900s, and from the likes of James M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, O. Henry, and Bret Harte. (By the way, have you met Sheerluck Combs? Shamrock Jolnes? Hemlock Jones? Holmlock Shears? They're all here, and more.)

Another lesson is how illustrious the ranks of the literary Holmes-bodies are. Among the bookstore brand names who have tried their hand at channeling the Baker Street sleuth: P.G. Wodehouse, Anthony Burgess, Kingsley Amis, Stephen King, Michael Moorcock, and Neil Gaiman. All have tales included, and you can see that a writer's position on the ladder of literary achievement is no guarantee of his success at penning a satisfying Sherlockian parody or pastiche. (Lookin' at you, Burgess.) Still, even when a tale doesn't fully capture the style or character of the source stories, you sense the gravitational pull of Doyle's creation on the imitator. If nothing else, the selections in this truly big book – massive enough to club a Hound of the Baskervilles into submission – form a detailed mosaic of what makes the Holmes tales work: Sherlock, yes, but also all the characters surrounding him, their histories and interplay, and the way in which the mysteries are posed and solved.

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories is more than just an illumination of the originals by reflected light, though. It's a ripping good read, rich with ingenious mysteries, compelling character studies, and sly send-ups that are their own reward. And much of the fun it offers fans of the canon are discoveries about its characters that come from sending them places Doyle didn't: Sherlock as babysitter, solving the riddle of Red Riding Hood; Holmes so impressed with a girl that he'd play Father Christmas for her; Holmes face to face with the Devil himself; the Great Detective laid low by a nemesis more nefarious than the Napoleon of Crime: cats, to which he's allergic. All this and more awaits you in the 82 tales of this anthology – if you're as game as its authors


<i>Elementary</i>
Elementary

Parade of Holmes

Our picks for greatest adventures of the Great Detective that Arthur Conan Doyle didn't write.

Young Sherlock Holmes

Directed by Barry Levinson. Screenplay by Chris Columbus. Starring Nicholas Rowe, Sophie Ward, Alan Cox. (1985, 109 min.)
If you see this film when you're around the age I was when it debuted in theatres – 23 – it'll likely have a greater impact, due to easier identification with the main characters. But if you're a Holmes fan of any age, it's a good bet that you'll enjoy this clever fancy in which Holmes and Watson meet in their teens while attending a British boarding school – and together attempt to thwart a shadowy Egyptian cult that's systematically killing London business types. – W.A.B.

The Case of the Revo­lu­tionist's Daughter: Sherlock Holmes Meets Karl Marx

by Lewis S. Feuer Prometheus Books, 265 pp., $32.99
In this playfully irreverent novel, the science of deduction meets the ideology of Marxism, leaving both sides confused and the reader highly entertained. Friedrich Engels hires Sherlock Holmes to locate Karl Marx's errant daughter, who has run off with (gasp!) a capitalist. Holmes must navigate through London's socialist underworld to uncover the rebellious runaway's whereabouts. Along the way, he encounters George Bernard Shaw, the Fabian Society, Beatrix Potter, and various other Bohemians. – M.O.

Elementary

CBS, Thursdays, 9pm Central
Take a handful of supposed Holmes adaptation heresies – fast-forwarding to modern day, abandoning London, altering Watson's race and gender – put them in a blender with the American police procedural and what do you get? CBS' Elementary offers a relentlessly compassionate meditation on the nature of addiction, gorgeous performances by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as a Holmes and Watson that deeply need, respect, and challenge each other, a thrillingly diverse cast, and inventive crimes to solve on the way. – Rosalind Faires


Sherlock on the Big Screen

At press time, seven theatres are set to screen Sherlock: The Abominable Bride on Wed.-Thu., Jan. 5-6. See more info at www.fathomevents.com.

Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Metropolitan 14, Barton Creek 14 with IMAX, Cinemark Cedar Park, Tinseltown USA Pflugerville, Stone Hill Town Center Pflugerville, Cinemark Hill Country Galleria

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sherlock Holmes
Parade of Holmes
Parade of Holmes
Our picks for great adventures of the Great Detective that Arthur Conan Doyle didn't write

Dec. 25, 2015

Sherlock Chronicles
Sherlock Chronicles
A look behind the scenes of the BBC series Sherlock is informative, if not intimate

Rosalind Faires, Dec. 25, 2015

More Arts Reviews
Austin Playhouse's <i>Copenhagen</i>
Austin Playhouse's Copenhagen
In the conversations of this Michael Frayn drama, we learn that history is broken, just like us

Laura Jones, April 19, 2019

Zach Theatre's <i>Matilda the Musical</i>
Zach Theatre's Matilda the Musical
With its memorable characters and energetic performances, this production connects adults with their inner child

Trey Gutierrez, April 19, 2019

More by Robert Faires
What to See When You Aren't Catching Moontower Comedy's Big Shows
What to See When You Aren't Catching Moontower Comedy's Big Shows

April 19, 2019

Seeing the Fusebox Festival Without Reservations
Seeing the Fusebox Festival Without Reservations
Tickets to some shows have been snapped up, but there's still plenty of electric Fusebox action available

April 12, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. Holmes, Ian McKellen, Elementary, Jonny Lee Miller, Penfold Theatre, BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle