Saturday, July 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: “The Annals of Sherlock Holmes”

Paul D. Gilbert; Publisher: Robert Hale (April 1, 2013)

“[Jeremy Brett’s] exuberance while filming ‘The Devil’s Foot’—an exuberance that to some extent was a result of his illness—led him to make additions to the story, some not always in keeping with either Conan Doyle’s Holmes or his previous performances. It was that great enthusiasm and thrill at developing the character that was responsible for us seeing Holmes wearing a bandana around his head, as Brett had worn one in the swinging ‘sixties. He also draped his scarf around his trilby hat in a strange way. Bohemian, maybe; risible, certainly. A still in ‘The Sunday Times’ which featured Holmes with this scarf/hat concoction was captioned: ‘Sherlock Holmes as a teapot!’” (David Stuart Davies, “Bending the Willow”)

The Sherlock Holmes of Paul Gilbert’s books is immediately recognizable. Beyond the features that automatically mark the character as the Great Detective, there is a more specific quality in every turn of phrase, sharply raised eyebrow and peculiar idiosyncrasy. Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably and unmistakably Jeremy Brett. The author of four collections of Sherlockian pastiche – The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes, The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, and most recently, The Annals of Sherlock Holmes – Gilbert said in a 2010 interview:

"He was a great actor and when I write, Jeremy Brett is my Sherlock. His family have read my books and I believe they have gone down well with them… I owe a lot to Jeremy Brett. I never met him but my interpretation of Holmes owes a lot to his character."
And that debt to Jeremy Brett is present within even the first few pages of The Annals of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of three stories inspired by canonical references (to both unpublished cases in Dr. Watson’s dispatch box at Cox and Co., at Charing Cross, and fringe characters from published stories). In the very first tale, as Holmes and Watson keep a frigid vigil on Christmas Eve, Watson remarks:

“I could not help but wonder at my friend’s effrontery. After all, he was sitting comfortably in the corner of this tiny stable with his muffler tied down about his hat while a large brown blanket was draped over his shoulders forming the shape of a teepee (13).”
The passage evokes an almost instantaneous recollection of Jeremy Brett’s puzzling wardrobe choices from the Granada Television adaptation of “The Devil’s Foot.” Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is a vivid and sharply painted portrait, recognizable in every word and gesture. It is a remarkable tribute. Likewise, his Watson seems to be equal shades of David Burke and Edward Hardwicke – although there appears to be a little bit more of Hardwicke’s interpretation in his Watson’s frustration and exasperation: “Really, Holmes, on this occasion you have surely surpassed yourself. Your shabby treatment of me displays a wanton lack of respect that I surely don’t deserve!” (51) Over the course of three separate stories, Gilbert successfully achieves cohesiveness and consistency, allowing the collection to be appreciated as a whole – as well as for the merits of its parts.

The Dundas Separation Case: In “A Case of Identity,” as he attempts to explain to Dr. Watson just how infinitely strange life can be, Sherlock Holmes makes reference to some papers, saying:

“This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it. The husband was a teetotaller, there was no other woman, and the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife, which you will allow is not an action likely to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller.”
While the canonical reference makes it sound as if Watson was unaware of this peculiar case, Gilbert’s readers soon learn that this just simply isn’t so. When Holmes and Watson are contacted by Miss Edith Swinton – a friend of Miss Violet Hunter (COPP), she asks their help in deciphering the excessively bizarre behavior of her employer, Sir Balthazar Dundas. Since the arrival of a mysterious visitor, Dundas has begun to treat his wife in an appallingly abusive fashion, and is now cloistering himself in the attic of his home in Dungeness. Readers soon learn that this case is also the explanation behind Watson’s oblique canonical reference to “the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant” (VEIL).

The Abernetty Mystery: During “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” Sherlock Holmes tells Inspector Lestrade:

“The affair seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising commencement. You will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day.”
The unpublished case of the Abernetty family has always stimulated curiosity. What could be a better example of Sherlock Holmes’s keen deductive reasoning than his observations on something as seemingly insignificant as a sprig of parsley? When Holmes and Watson are invited to visit the Collier family (a reference to Gilbert’s previous work, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra), Watson suggests that they make a brief visit to his friend, Montague Abernetty, along the way. But where Holmes and Watson go, trouble is sure to follow. When the men arrive, Abernetty is already dead of cyanide poisoning – and every member of his family is a suspect!

The Adventure of the Reluctant Spirit: "I have come to you, Mr. Holmes," Miss Mary Morstan told Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four, "because you once enabled my employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little domestic complication. She was much impressed by your kindness and skill." While it has been some time since the passing of his wife, Dr. Watson still maintains contact with the woman who once employed her, Mrs. Cecil Forrester. Unfortunately, Mrs. Forrester is recently bereaved and under the influence of a medium who claims he can make contact with her deceased daughter, Evangeline. As such, she turns again to the man who once impressed her with his “kindness and skill”. But with Sherlock Holmes supposedly engaged in the investigation of a sapphire gone missing from a locked room, Watson appears to be on his own in assisting his old acquaintance. However, the two cases begin to intersect, and Langdale Pike (3GAB) arrives, with his own peculiar set of skills, to aid them both.

Gilbert has summoned a Sherlock Holmes who is in full possession of his powers, and does not hesitate to use them completely. His Watson is at equal turns admiring and exasperated, but always at the Detective’s side. Everything about them is authentic and familiar, as comfortable as a visit to Baker Street and an old dressing gown. The Annals of Sherlock Holmes is the latest contribution to Paul Gilbert’s fine collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and he remains exacting in his details and faithful in his execution.
The Annals of Sherlock Holmes is available in hardback and for the Kindle from Amazon, and in hardback and for the Nook from Barnes & Noble. Paul D. Gilbert is available on Twitter, and Facebook.
“Better Holmes & Gardens” has its own Facebook page.  Join by “Liking” the page here, and receive all the latest updates, news, and Sherlockian tidbits.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to recall having read some of these - in a Czech translation - but I just can't remember if it really were these cases by this author, or someone else's take on it. I'm thinking that might be the problem with many of the Holmesian pastiches I read years ago - so few of them stood out for me to remember them the way I remember the originals. Some stood out in being utterly ridiculous (one of the takes on the Giant Rat of Sumatra, as I'm sure you're well aware of). Which makes me think that perhaps it was someone else's take; your descriptions of Gilbert's books make them sound more memorable than that.
    I'm commenting here because your blog and your reviews of pastiches reminded me of one of the best I've ever read, which to the loss of English-speaking readers does not seem to ever have been translated into English - Waclaw Golembowicz's (a Polish author) "Chemical Cases of Sherlock Holmes". Golembowicz, himself a chemist, writes in the preface that he was struck by the distinct lack of Holmes' detailed chemical knowledge being applies to cases in the Canon (except for the aside mentions never connected to the cases actually described), so he decided to go the well-travelled route of pastiches to remedy that. The problems he came up with and the environments he goes into are so varied and good that sometimes I even forget they were not part of Canon. It does have its failings, but manages to capture the tone, and it fulfills what it sets out to do: I cannot now imagine Holmes without the chemistry, and not just as a prop in the background.
    I wonder if there were a way to somehow bring this book to the attention of Holmesians in the English-speaking world; it is really worth it and it would be a shame if its contribution to this field remained forgotten just due to its having been written by a Slavic author.