What is it about the character of Sherlock Holmes that has made him such an enduring creation? When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first sat down to set pen to paper, could he ever have imagined the great legacy his creation would inspire? I do not believe, even in his wildest dreams, that Doyle could have envisioned the manner in which this discourteous, drug-addicted, charismatic genius might develop into one of the world’s best known and most loved fictional creations, let alone the fact his stories would go on to inspire an entire sub-genre of detective fiction.
When Doyle, tired of his character and looking for a reprieve, sent Holmes tumbling to his death over the Reichenbach Falls, the public outcry was so cacophonous that Doyle was forced to raise him from the dead. Yet the public appetite was such that, even after Doyle’s own death in 1930, people continued to hunger for new Holmes adventures.
Consequently, there is a proud legacy of continuing Sherlock Holmes stories, sometimes referred to, perhaps unkindly, as “pastiches”. Indeed, Holmes must, I suspect, be one of the most written-about characters in the English language, and probably in many other languages besides. Books, theatre, radio plays, television shows, films — all have played a part in continuing Doyle’s legacy. Holmes has lived a thousand lifetimes, with twice as many adventures, but still he persists, the master of deduction, the template for most future detectives, a hero whose comforting presence can always be felt, lurking on the edges of popular culture.
Holmes, it seems, is more than just a character. He’s an idea, a cipher; a metaphor for the articulate, intelligent hero that, just like Watson, we all want in our lives.
This volume, then, serves to fulfil that function, at least for a time: to provide the reader with fourteen brand-new tales of Sherlock Holmes. Here we see Holmes encounter strange patchwork men in the dark alleyways of London; meet a dying Sir Richard Francis Burton, who needs his help to locate a missing manuscript; go head to head with AJ. Raffles; unravel a bizarre mystery on the Necropolis Express; meet with H.G. Wells in the strangest of circumstances; unpick a murder in a locked railway carriage; explain the origins of his famous Persian slipper and more. We also see Watson and Mrs Hudson enjoying their own adventures, although Holmes forever looms large, even if he is working quietly to manipulate events from behind the scenes.
I hope you read on to enjoy these “encounters” of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been privileged enough to be the first to read them as I’ve assembled this volume, and I already know what treats lay in store. So, without further ado, allow me to offer you one simple reassurance — the spirit of Sherlock Holmes lives on in every one of them.
Now go! The game’s afoot!
THE LOSS OF CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
BY MARK HODDER
Throughout my long acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes I was frequently astonished by the insights I gained into his remarkable mind and the wholly unique manner in which it functioned. Over the years, as these revelations accumulated, I slowly came to understand how his great gift of observational and deductive intellect was also a terrible curse, for it robbed him of those warmer aspects of personality which we depend upon for the establishment and maintenance of friendships and emotional attachments. Indeed, Holmes often appeared to be little more than a machine built to gather and compare facts, calculating probabilities and interconnections until some final set of correspondences was revealed in which lay the solution to whatever problem had been set before him. I found this heartless efficiency disturbing, not only because it so separated him from society, but also because it caused me to often feel regarded as little more than a functional component of his existence. Admittedly, this might be regarded as insecurity on my part, but Holmes did little to assuage it, and I never felt it more deeply than during the case of The Greek Interpreter, when he finally revealed to me that he had a brother.
One night, shortly after the completion of that affair, Holmes and I were sitting up into the early hours, reading and smoking, when I found myself unable to hold my tongue any longer, and, out of the blue, blurted, “Really, Holmes! You are positively inhuman!”
My companion sighed, shifted in his armchair, put aside his book, and levelled his piercing eyes at me, saying nothing.
“Why did you never mention Mycroft before?” I continued. “All this time we’ve known one another, and you kept your brother a secret from me!”
Holmes glanced into his pipe bowl, leaned over and knocked it against the hearth, and set about refilling it. “I didn’t mention him, Watson, simply because there was no reason to do so.”
“No reason? Do you not see that the sharing of personal details about one’s family, upbringing, past and associates establishes deeper bonds of friendship? Is that not reason enough?”
“Do you not consider us friends, then?”
“Of course we’re friends! You purposely overlook my use of the word deeper. Friendship is not a static thing. It must be continually strengthened if it is to survive the naturally degenerative effects of time. You make no effort!”
Holmes waved a hand dismissively. “I have detected no lessening of my attachment to you, despite my apparent neglect.”
“Ha!” I cried out. “Detected! Not felt, but detected! Even in your choice of words you reveal that you do not operate as a normal person. You are thoroughly cold and dispassionate!”
He struck a match and spent a few moments sucking at the stem of his pipe until the tobacco was burning and plumes of blue smoke were curling into the air, then murmured, “An advantage, it would seem. I am not dependent upon the fuel of emotive displays and reassurances.”
I threw down my newspaper in exasperation, jumped to my feet, and paced over to the sideboard to pour myself a drink. “For all your criticism of his sedentary ways, I found Mycroft to be a warmer fellow than you are. Your only passion, Holmes, is the solving of puzzles!”
“Not passion,” he responded. “Vocation. Look out of the window, would you? If I’m not mistaken, a carriage has just pulled up outside. The sound is somewhat muffled. I’ll wager a fog has got up while we’ve been sitting here.”
I frowned, annoyed that our conversation had been interrupted, and pulled aside the curtain. “A peasouper. I can’t see a blessed thing. Great heavens!”
My exclamation came in response to a high-pitched screeching that penetrated both the pall and our windowpane, the words plainly audible. “Absurd! Absurd! It’s a shilling, I tell you! I’ll not be swindled! A shilling! A shilling and not a ha’penny more, confound you!”
I looked back at Holmes, who arched an eyebrow and said, “Down the stairs with you, there’s a good fellow. If paying a cab fare engenders such hysteria, then our street door is about to suffer a dose of unrestrained hammering. Answer it before Mrs Hudson is roused, would you?”
Laying aside my untouched brandy, I left the consulting room, hurried down the staircase, and yanked open the front door just as the first knock impacted against it. A man of about fifty was on our doorstep. He was tiny, barely touching five feet in height, with a fragile-looking slope-shouldered body upon which was mounted a ridiculously outsized head, its bald cranium fringed with bright red hair that curled down around the jawline to form a small unkempt beard. Waving his bowler in the air, he hopped up and down and shrieked, “Help! Help! Sherlock Holmes!”
“Calm yourself!” said I. “Mr Holmes is just upstairs. Allow me to show you up to—”