I will first confess that I was never much into Sherlock Holmes. I never read any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, although I think I may have tried as a teenager. Before we owned Whodunit? I read some mysteries. I remember buying a number of Stephanie Barron’s excellent ‘Jane Austen’ series at Whodunit? as well as the riotously funny (though likely now very dated) ‘Sam Jones’ series by Lauren Henderson. But once we bought the store I started expanding my palate, often just by perusing the used shelves and seeing what jumped out at me. I can’t recall what prompted me to pick up a copy of Carole Nelson Douglas’s Good Night, Mr Holmes, but Goodreads indicates it was in July of 2010. It was around this time that the first Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downie Jr. came out featuring Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler as well as the modern BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Irene Adler doesn’t appear in that series until Series 2). However, I got there, Carole Nelson Douglas was my introduction to the genre of Sherlock Holmes Pastiche and I haven’t looked back since.
I remember being confused by Good Night, Mr Holmes originally, as I had understood Irene Adler to be the protagonist. As it turns out she is not the narrator of the books. That honour falls to Nell (or Penelope, who could possibly have been the inspiration for my daughter’s name), who is Irene’s sidekick throughout her various adventures. I have very fond feelings for this whole series, there are 8 books in total, but my Goodreads ratings indicate things really picked up around book #4 (Another Scandal In Bohemia). Sherlock himself pops up throughout the series but is by no means a main character. I do love a recasting of villain though, and this is an excellent example of it with Irene as the heroine. These are long and meaty books. Not hard to read by any means, but wordy and detailed. Unfortunately, two things make it difficult for me to easily recommend these books. Firstly, they are very difficult to find, particularly book #2 (which is entirely out of print). Secondly, books #2, 3, and 4 have all had title changes since their original publication. It would appear that Nelson Douglas is getting back the rights as they go out of print through her original publisher and is selling certain titles as ebooks. If you’re interested in this series, we are able to get Good Night, Mr Holmes in new trade paperback. We also have book #3 new and books 5 and 7 in used. If you enjoy looking for a hard to find series in used bookstores, this is a good one to pick.
Similarly, I can’t remember how I came to pick up Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first in her Mary Russell series. I know I’d heard about it, but finally in July of 2011 I read it and was instantly hooked. Like Carole Nelson Douglas’s Sherlock, King doesn’t ask us to do much reimagining of the great detective. He is retired now, of course, but also falls in love with his protegee, young Mary Russell. He has also given up some of his more dangerous vices. Mycroft is a regular character, Uncle John (Watson) is often referenced, and Mrs. Hudson still tends the house (and is the main character in book #14, The Murder of Mary Russell). Like any series, there are wonderful books and not so great ones. I don’t think I was alone in feeling like Pirate King was a weaker story. But the subsequent books redeemed themselves and the series continues with book #15, Island of the Mad, being released in hardcover in June. The Mary Russell books really captivated me because they inserted a female perspective into the canon without asking the reader to completely reimagine Holmes. We have most of the books in stock at any given time in new (mostly in trade paperback) and used (often in used), as well as the collection of short stories that had previously only been available online (Mary Russell’s War). The early books are my favorite and I envy anyone who has the opportunity to discover them anew.
The first book in a new series by Leonard Goldberg called The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes was released last summer. The premise here is that the son of John Watson, the daughter and grandson of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, and the son of Inspector Lestrade all find themselves thrown together to solve crimes. I will admit to finding it a bit silly and contrived that these original characters should all have children who do exactly the same things that they do, but it was an easy read and might scratch an itch if you enjoy Holmes pastiche and none of your favourite authors have anything new. The second book in the series, A Study in Treason, will be released in hardcover this summer.
But now I want to come to the inspiration for this piece: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, the first in her ‘Lady Sherlock’ series. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything that reading a blurb about the book wouldn’t tell you, but if you haven’t read the book and want to be surprised, skip to Wendy’s piece about art theft.
As I was saying…I didn’t read this book until this summer, almost a year after it was published, because Wendy said she couldn’t get into it and I trust her judgment. She kept promising me her copy and we couldn’t find it but when we were on vacation this summer I borrowed a digital copy from the library (yes, it’s ok to do that sometimes, we aren’t offended). The first few chapters were slow as Thomas built to the premise of the book. I could absolutely see why Mum gave up. But. Once we have the big reveal that Charlotte Holmes has created Sherlock as a fictional creation to allow her to solve crimes, it’s really wonderful. Ms. Holmes benefactor is named Mrs. Watson while her sister Livia plays the part of the writer of Sherlock’s exploits. I love that the series doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes to be real at all, so we aren’t required to suspend any disbelief about what Holmes might or might not do. Book #2 in the series, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, is just as good and includes a sub-plot featuring the stand-in for Mycroft. Book #3, The Hollow of Fear, will be released in October 2018 and it is the book I am most looking forward to in 2018. I won’t pretend this series has universal appeal, but if you love a Sherlockian pastiche and well-written female characters, you will enjoy it.
In April I’ll be talking about lady Sherlocks (and Watsons) in young adult titles, including the new modern ‘Charlotte Holmes’ series that begins with the excellent A Study in Charlotte.