A Holmesian Feast

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, ed. by Otto Penzler, (Pantheon), 816 pages, release date 27 October, 2015, hardcover editing $40, paperback edition $25

By the pound, by the page, by sheer number of stories—The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories is a wonderful buy. Otto Penzler has gathered a marvelous collection of Holmes stories ranging from early parodies to recent variations. Each story is provided with an introduction giving information about the time in which it was written, the author’s other writing, the reception of the story.  It’s just one giant feast with all sorts of dishes, and one can devour it without ever feeling overfull.

“The Unique ‘Hamlet'”tells the story of a Shakespeare bibliographer in desperation over the theft of a rare edition of this play: “There he lay, a magnificent ruin, with his head on the fringed border [of the rug] and his feet in the coal scuttle; and sealed within his motionless lips was the amazing story he had come to tell—for that it was amazing we could not doubt in light of out client’s extraordinary behavior.”

“The Late Sherlock Holmes,” a satire penned by Arthur Conan Doyle’s friend J. M. Barrie, presents a series of sensationalist news stories in which Watson is arrested for Holmes’ murder after Holmes disappears at Reichenbach Falls. The press reports call into question Watson’s version of events on that day: “nothing can be clearer than that Holmes had ample time to shoot Moriarty after the latter hove in sight. But even allowing that Holmes was unarmed, why did not Moriarty shoot him? Had he no pistols either? This is the acme of absurdity… It may be added from information provided to us from a safe source, that the police do not expect to find [the individual sighted at Reichenbach] was Moriarty, but rather AN ACCOMPLICE OF WATSON’S” [emphasis from the original].

“The Drood Mystery” has Holmes solving the fate of Edwin Drood—the murdered hero of Dickens’ unfinished novel. The tone here is brisk and irreverent. Watson tells us that one individual is “exactly the pompous Tory jackass that Holmes had described.” He also mentions “a singularly obnoxious boy, whom we found in the street, flinging stones at the passers-by.” After the boy provides a key bit of information Watson describes Holmes “giving the imp sixpence, ‘here’s something for you. And here,’ [Holmes] continued, reversing the boy over his knee, and giving him a sound spanking, ‘here is something else for you.'”

In “The Ruby of Khitmandu,” a parody featuring Holmes and Watson equivalents, the breathless (and rather gormless) narrator tells us “What I said I cannot remember. If I could, I would not report it. I believe I wept.” In “Sherlock Holmes vs. Conan Doyle,” Holmes tells a client “it [detecting] save me from ennui—it and cocaine.”

I could provide endless delectable morsels from this Holmesian feast, but I hope by now the point is clear: if you enjoy Holmes, you need this book. Yes, need it.

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