Sherlock Holmes still lives

Although his true death has yet to be recorded — Really, how can our heroes ever die? — the world’s first consulting detective is still very much alive and active to the mystery-loving public. He’s a classic figure of fiction and adventure that has captured the cultural imagination for more than 100 years. His tales have expanded beyond the canonical stories written by creator A. Conan Doyle, so much so that Holmes is claimed to be from the same family tree as Tarzan, the Shadow, and Star Trek‘s Spock, and new tales of his adventures have appeared by such writers as Nicholas Meyer, Robert Bloch, Michael Chabon and Stephen King. Some are great fun; some are merely shadows of Baker Street. But with Holmes — or Tarzan, or Spock, or Lamont Cranston —

How can true heroes ever die?

The most recent collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories is from prolific British author Donald Thomas. Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil is comprised of five original Holmes novellas, all taking place in a variety of time periods during Holmes’ career.

They are nicely written — comfortable, even — and no boats are rocked here, as they were in Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution.

In short, they are enjoyable, but, ultimately, dull.

In the generations that have seen Homes brought to life by Basil Rathbone, Nicol Williamson, the brilliant Jeremy Brett and, soon, Robert Downey, Jr., the bar has been lifted. Holmes pastiches have to reach beyond their origins and seek dramatic ground in each present era. Robert Bloch’s tales about the 1880s’ Jack the Ripper, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” a story, and his teleplay for, coincidentally, Star Trek, “Wolf in the Fold,” worked at the times, decades apart, when they were written. When they’re read or watched today, they’re a little dated.

As such, Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil is dated — not by time, but by its adherence to traditional Sherlockian prose and drama. Holmes here is Holmes in name only — there is little attempt by Thomas to give Holmes any kind of singular characterization or original insight. Holmes is merely a reflection of Doyle’s Holmes and nothing original — nothing the readers of our era can use as an anchor. Watson, here, is even worse. He is bumbling and misunderstanding, a reflection not of Doyle, but of the idiot Watson in the worst of the Rathbone movies from the ’30s and ’40s.

Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil is recommended only for mystery lovers and true Sherlockians. You will have a much more enjoyable time watching a few episodes of Jeremy Brett’s BBC series, so order the dvds today from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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