sherlock holmes

Ms. Sherlock, Part II: YA by Sian - The Missing Clue - April 2018

In April’s ‘The Missing Clue’, I talked about Sherlock Holmes pastiches featuring women. It turns out that as many as there are for adults, there are at least as many aimed at the young adult (YA) market that adults will find equally engaging. Sherlock Holmes apparently has a sister, a granddaughter, and several nieces, among others, who inherited his gift for solving crimes. Please note, some small spoilers about the identity of the protagonists is necessary to discuss the titles in question (and nothing more than you’d find in the description of each book online) but beware if you really want to be surprised.

            We were lucky enough to host Toronto author Angela Misri for an event at the store a few years back in honour of her ‘Portia Adams’ series. After the death of her mother, 19-year-old Portia is whisked to London in high-style by her mysterious new guardian to 221 Baker Street. At first, she believes herself to be the granddaughter of Dr. John Watson, but it soon becomes clear to the reader that she more closely resembles the great detective himself. The end of JEWEL OF THE THAMES, the first book in the series, reveals that her guardian is Irene Adler and that Adler and Holmes are her grandparents. This is a great series for young Sherlock fans, as there’s no objectionable content. I had fun imagining Irene Adler as an older lady. I thoroughly enjoyed JEWEL OF THE THAMES, and I look forward to reading THRICE BURNED and NO MATTER HOW IMPROBABLE. We’ve got all three in the store in trade paperback.

            It’s hard to imagine Sherlock Holmes having a mother, but if he had a brother, he could just as easily have had a sister. Nancy Springer’s ‘Enola Holmes’ series posits that Mrs. Holmes had a much younger daughter named Enola. On her 14th birthday, Enola’s mother disappears, and she is forced to summon her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. When it becomes clear that Sherlock is only focused on finding his estranged mother and Mycroft wants to send her away to school, Enola decides to take matters into her own hands. While lots of Sherlock pastiches feature characters who closely resemble Sherlock, the similarity is less obvious to Enola herself, at any rate. I really liked THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS, the first in the series. I enjoyed the inclusion of Mycroft into the mix, as he is a particular favorite of mine (I’m thinking especially of Laurie R. King’s Mycroft). There are six books in this series, all available to order and most for under $11. It’s a little more sophisticated than the Misri series, but will still appeal to young adult readers as well as grownups. If you enjoy a graphic novel, the first book has been adapted into the format and ENOLA HOLMES: THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS will be released in October 2018.

            A confession here: I never actually finished A STUDY IN SILKS by Emma Jane Holloway. Which is a surprise because it ticks ALL my boxes. It’s a Sherlock Pastiche, starring a woman (in this case Sherlock Holmes’ niece Evelina), and it has a steampunk slant. That said, I’m planning on diving back in because maybe it was an off day. I should also mention that I’m including it in this YA roundup rather than April’s Adult titles because I really felt like it read as YA. At any rate, all three books in the series are available for order in mass market and we’ve got a single copy of A STUDY IN SILKS in used for one lucky reader.

            Another niece and another series I haven’t read, but I’m including it because it’s on my ‘To Read’ pile and we have some in stock. Colleen Gleason’s ‘Stoker & Holmes’ series features Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram, and Mina Holmes, niece of Sherlock, so you can expect vampires and detection of crimes. This is another steampunk series and we’ve got two out of four titles in stock (THE CLOCKWORK SCARAB and THE CHESS QUEEN ENIGMA).

            I started reading THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER because Deanna Raybourn recommended it in her monthly newsletter, without any sense it related to my Sherlock Holmes project at all. And yet Sherlock himself turns up as a major character (if I had to take a guess, he’s meant to be a love interest as the series progresses). But don’t read this book for the Sherlock connection. Read it because it’s really excellent and a clever concept. It’s too complicated a premise to explain in a sentence, but it begins with Dr. Jekyll’s daughter finding Mr. Hyde’s daughter hidden away in a nunnery, paid for by Mrs. Jekyll. It’s got very much the same flavor as my favorite book of 2017, Vivian Shaw’s STRANGE PRACTICE, but with a historical setting. Also not technically YA, but appropriate for older readers on the YA spectrum. We’ve got more copies of THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER en route in trade paperback and we’ll be getting book #2, EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN, in July.

            For all the Sherlock Pastiches, very few have contemporary settings. There is Michael Robertson’s ‘Baker Street Letters’ series, of course, but when we think of modern Sherlock retellings, we think immediately of the excellent BBC reimagining starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Charlotte Holmes is a direct descendent of the great detective (her great-great-great-grandfather). Likewise, Jamie Watson is the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. John Watson. When they end up at the same Connecticut boarding school and a classmate is murdered, the inevitable pairing results.

            A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE was one of those books I wasn’t sure if I liked, but I couldn’t put it down and I immediately went out of my way to read the second book (THE LAST OF AUGUST). In fact, very much my reaction to the recent Sherlock TV series. Like the Leonard Goldberg book THE DAUGHTER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, it somewhat beggars belief to imagine that generations of Holmes, Watsons, and Moriartys behave the same way generation after generation. Still, that’s what make all of these pastiches so fun: imagining what Sherlock Holmes would be like if he weren’t a middle-aged man. The subject matter of these books is dark and there is sex (both consensual and non-consensual) and drugs. If imagining Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock as a young teenage girl makes you uncomfortable, so too will this book. It’s also the kind of book I would have loved to read as a teenage girl, so there you go. The only reason I didn’t bring back a copy of THE CASE FOR JAMIE from my most recent trip to Winnipeg is the degree to which my To Read pile is backlogged. We’ve got A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE in stock in trade paperback, THE LAST OF AUGUST available to order in trade paperback, and THE CASE FOR JAMIE in stock in hardcover.

            I’ll mention here for want of a better place to say it that YA books are usually priced lower than adult books. So THE CASE FOR JAMIE, for example, is a hardcover priced at $21.99 and A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE in trade paperback at $12.50. If you’re looking for some budget reads, we have some excellent young adult titles that will appeal as much to the adult reader, especially as we grow our children’s section in the new store.

The Missing Clue - April 2016 - Some Thoughts on Pastiche by Jack

When I was a boy, one of my mother’s favourite bromides was: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” a phrase that has stuck with me over the years. Literary imitation is usually called “pastiche,” and for better or worse, I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about and playing with the concept, especially since we decided to do a series of Book Club evenings featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson pastiches. When I actually focused on the technique, I was more than a bit surprised to realize how limited it was in practice. In the first place, one can really only imitate an author who is super well-known. Who beyond Sherlock? The first author I thought of was Agatha Christie. Partly because of the second consideration: the need to find sufficiently well-known literary characteristics to imitate. When I considered this factor, it suddenly became clear to me why Holmes was such a popular target for pastiche and why relatively few others could qualify. Hercule Poirot could certainly be imitated, because of his appearance and because of his distinctive phrases, such as “the little grey cells.” But who else? Miss Marple? Probably. Father Brown? The Saint? Perry Mason? James Bond? Nero Wolfe? Peter Wimsey? Make your own list. It will not be very long, and would probably not include many recent authors. At this point I suddenly began to appreciate durable popularity. The pioneers of crime fiction who have survived the years are mainly those who created larger-than-life characters. Such creations are no longer fashionable. Lisbeth Salander is one of the few contemporaries who comes immediately to mind. Who else? One wonders. A point worth emphasizing is that literary pastiche is not confined to books; film and television rely heavily on literature for their material, and are currently the sources of some of the best pastiche – Holmes has two television series currently going, neither one of which started in print. Both series move Holmes into the 21st century. Recent films have reversed the Holmes/Watson relationship and looked into the early life of Holmes.

What exactly is literary pastiche? Simply put, it is imitation. In practice, however, imitation covers a multitude of sins and a variety of strategies not all of which involve a straight line between original and copy. Why do authors write pastiche? The most obvious answer is lack of originality, although I suspect that this answer explains very few of what is produced. More important is commercial viability. Pastiche enables an author to tie his or her work to a known product with a known record in the bookshops. In a few cases, the success of the imitation generates its own popularity. This was clearly the case with the Mary Russell series. Some authors are attracted by the challenge of successful imitation.

Curiously enough, the easiest strategy of pastiche to adopt is also the hardest to bring off well. It involves an authentic replication of the original style and of the author. If Conan Doyle is the target, this usually means writing in the voice of Dr. Watson, harder to do well than you might think – just try it! Many of those who go this route actually create a complex story about a lost manuscript recently unearthed, and they set their work within the timeframe and space (London) of Holmes’s glory years. The problem is that there are only so many plots, and Conan Doyle has already cherry picked most of the best ones. The result is a product which often seems stale, at least to the reader of the Doyle originals. But we must always remember that not every consumer of pastiche is necessarily familiar with the original.

As my comments about film suggest, there are many ways of doing pastiche, some sticking closer to the original than others. One popular strategy is to hijack one of the Holmes characters and turn him/her/them into the major protagonist(s). As I have noted elsewhere in this newsletter, every continuing character in the Conan Doyle canon – even the urchins of the Baker Street Irregulars now has his or her or their own series. Indeed, one of the most appealing recent series takes nothing from the Holmes canon but the address – 221B Baker Street – at which Holmes and Watson are supposed to have resided. Two attorney brothers rent the premises in modern times; their lease includes a stipulation that they answer any mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Since any such mail is bound to involve some kind of crime puzzle, the author has a wonderful lead-in into a fresh story. (Author of this series is Michael Robertson; we have most of the titles in stock)

Complicating the whole business of pastiche is the recent emergence of authorized pastiche, as literary estates seek to squeeze the last bit of revenue out of their literary property. The heirs of Steig Larsson—his family, not the common law companion, who according to Swedish law had no rights of inheritance – authorized a Salander sequel, which appeared in 2015. Fortunately, the new author, David Lagercrantz, had the good sense to do the new volume as a pastiche, essentially filling in details in the original three books. It got reasonably good reviews.  (The Girl in the Spider’s Web will be available in tradepaper at the end of April, ($22)) The Christie estate authorized a fairly well-known crime fiction novelist, Sophie Hannah, to continue the adventures of Hercule Poirot. Hannah took a different approach than Lagercrantz, essentially dumping the Belgian detective, full formed, into the middle of one of her own stories. (The Monogram Murders, in stock (tp$18.99. The result little resembled Agatha Christie, and the critics were not at all impressed. Hannah’s effort may not have been sufficiently pastiche-like. In fairness, it is hard to know how to write another author’s sequel. 

It seems unlikely to me that much more can be done with Sherlockian pastiche, but then, you never can tell.