Title: The Perils of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Loren D. Estleman
Format: Hardcover edition, Tyrus Books
It is no secret to anyone that Sherlock Holmes is popular. Even before the Supreme Court voiced its learned opinion that Holmes should be and is in the public domain, many authors have tried their hand at their own versions of the Great Detective’s adventures. Either sanctioned by some version of the Doyle estate or written under the auspices of being free and clear, scores and scores of Holmes tales now fill the market. From mediocre to nearing the level of Doyle himself, quality of these takes on Holmes varies broadly. This is also the case for the stories between the covers of The Perils of Sherlock Holmes by Loren D. Estleman.
A renowned author, Estleman in his introduction to this volume reveals that he is a devotee of Holmes and that is much of the drive behind the various stories he has written over the years that are included in this collection. What follows the introduction is quite literally a mixed bag of stories, some definitely living up to the shadow of Doyle, others feeling more forced or even lazily produced.
In “The Adventure of the Arabian Knight”, Holmes takes on a case for Sir Richard Francis Burton that is related to a rather famous Egyptian King’s tomb. Although the use of Burton and egyptology is interesting, this story is not only easily predictable, but the various turns and herrings of red used within are cliched and obvious and leave little mystery for the reader to enjoy.
“The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” is a rather fun tale focusing on potentially ghostly visitors harassing a rather strict man of business in the style of Dickens’ famous tale. Unlike the previous story, this one makes great use of distraction and leads Holmes and those reading along down a few rabbit trails, ending with a twist that is both interesting and satisfying.
Sax Rohmer makes an appearance in “The Riddle of the Golden Monkeys” and again, this proves to be terrific read. Both Holmes and Watson are properly presented here as Doyle created them and tying into Rohmer’s own adventures makes for a great adventure.
Estleman includes a one act play he wrote for a group he was a member of and although it is Holmesian, it is out of place in this collection and that may be why it simply doesn’t work. “Dr. and Mrs. Watson At home: A Comedy in One Unnatural Act” takes a look at the home life of the Watsons and does this in a rather ludicrous, tongue in cheek fashion. I have enough knowledge of Holmes to catch the majority of the inside jokes contained in this script, but even with that, it just isn’t very funny or engaging.
“The Adventures of the Coughing Dentist” is by far the best story in this collection. Finding Holmes and Watson in America, this tale is a wonder on a few levels. First, it is a direct follow up to Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” and fulfills that function well. Secondly, it’s a dandy mystery all the way around. And lastly, but by far the best part for me, Holmes teams up with none other than Wyatt Earp to hopefully free Doc Holliday from a hanging. In every way, Estleman nails not only Holmes, but Earp (a personal fascination of mine as a writer) and the blending of the two is exquisite.
Visiting a Christmas theme once again, “The Adventure of the Greatest Gift” is as far from the story before it as it can be. Ham handed in delivery, this story makes Holmes seem inferior and rather less than his usual razor sharp deducting self. Part of this may be because of a particular supporting character who shows up, one always fancied to be smarter than Sherlock, but other writers have used this character without weakening Holmes’ strengths and made it work. Not in this case, unfortunately.
“The Devil and Sherlock Holmes” is perhaps the oddest story in the collection and actually reminds me a tad of Lester Dent’s last Doc Savage adventure. In both cases, the heroes come face to face with what very well might be The Devil. In Holmes’ case for this story, he engages in a conversation and a battle of wits of sorts with a man who claims to be Lucifer himself. The man’s claim is at the center of the mystery and every turn is well executed, even leaving enough question at the end to make the open ended finale work very well.
The book closes with the first chapter of an unfinished Holmes round robin novel and two essays. Although all three are interesting ‘trifles’, to use a term from one of the essays, they are little more than this and serve as filler more than anything.
Overall, The Perils of Sherlock Holmes is a hit and miss collection, rating just barely 3 out of 5 pages.
Using my usual scale, Estleman’s Holmesian anthology rates 3 out 6 bullets. A rather up and down tangle of tales that makes the entire collection rather average.