Home away from Holmes: Essential Sherlock Holmes after Conan Doyle
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Over the years, Sherlock Holmes has been endlessly adapted and re-adapted for radio, stage, and screen. While these dalliances have their place, they seldom live up to the fun and high adventure of Conan Doyle’s original short stories and novels. By contrast, the literary adaptations tend to preserve some of that fun of the 19th century language and construction, but also plant Holmes and Watson firmly in different scenarios or even new genres altogether.
With that in mind, we hope that the Sherlock Holmes fans among you enjoy the following list of recommendations of some of the best transpositions of Sherlock Holmes...
Ordinarily, we’d stop there, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about 19th century literature, it’s that one should endeavour, whenever possible, to take the most roundabout route; this will help to ensure that the periodical in which your article or book is being serialised gets as much mileage as possible out of you.
Various Authors: Shadows Over Baker Street
Shadows Over Baker Street is a collection of short stories in which Conan Doyle’s rationally-minded detective is brought face to quivering-approximation-of-a-face with the ineffable horrors of HP Lovecraft.
Though they are somehow less fashionable than novel-length adaptations, short stories are the format that feels closest to the presentation of the original Holmes cases. While the best-remembered of the Conan Doyle books tends to be The Hound of the Baskervilles, the best Holmes tends to be in books like The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which present a series of disconnected investigations at breakneck pace, allowing the reader to enjoy them one at a time or revisit old favourites.
The stories collected for Shadows Over Baker Street each feature a different author’s interpretation of Lovecraftian horror, and pit their own versions of Sherlock Holmes against them. In the same way as the Conan Doyle Holmes books, there is a real pleasure in starting each story without the vaguest impression of what to expect.
While the collection is fantastic overall, the jewel in its crown is Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald, a fantastic and dreadful reconfiguring of A Study in Scarlet that injects a unique sense of anatomical attention to the alien presence. It shows a tender care and affection for the original Holmes story, but adds the creeping sense of horror that makes Lovecraftian horror work so well.
Loren D. Estleman: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula
First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been as widely adapted as Sherlock Holmes. Moreover, given that the two were being published at the same time, it seems inevitable that the two should cross paths, and though they do often enough the results are typically less than stellar.
On the face of it, this might seem like more of the same Sherlock-Holmes-meets-horror fare as Shadows Over Baker Street, but there’s less of a sense of amorphous dread to this than an impression of the vampire as the aristocracy of the night. Indeed, the fact that vampires have more rigidly defined rules and weaknesses than Lovecraft’s horrors means that there’s more opportunity to showcase Holmes’ signature cold logic.
The most important difference between this and those other instances in which Holmes encounters Dracula is that here the events of the book unfold in parallel with the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This lends the book a lived-in historical context that is nonetheless fresh territory for Holmes.
Anthony Horowitz: House of Silk
Anthony Horowitz may remain best known for his baffling insinuation last year that Idris Elba was “too street” to play James Bond, but it would be a shame to let that be an obstacle to your enjoyment of House of Silk.
Once it’s under way, House of Silk moves well and is communicated in a voice just different enough from Conan Doyle’s to avoid feeling like a clumsy pastiche (though there are doubtless die hard Conan Doyle fans who’d disagree). Indeed, the weakest point of the book is it’s opening note from Watson, which ends up being sadly more reminiscent of Nigel Bruce’s introductions to the Sherlock Holmes radio shows of the 1940s.
As in many of the best Holmes stories, the threat is from the new world… a fact which recommends it if only because it reinforces our quiet opinion that the Americas are a place filled with subtle and insidious dangers...
Horowitz has since gone on to write the excellent Moriarty, focussing on Conan Doyle's villain, and in which Holmes features as a relatively minor character.
Brittany Cavallaro: A Study in Charlotte
Given that all of the other adaptations so far tend to come from a fairly similar place, now seems a safe place to introduce something that mixes up the formula. A Study in Charlotte moves away from the relative security of the 19th century, instead centring on Holmes and Watson’s descendants, who are (shockingly) thrown together in a similar manner to their forebears.
The book is related from the point of view of a 16-year-old Jamie Watson as he investigates the death of a fellow student alongside Charlotte Holmes. The whole thing sidesteps any questions about the existence of the Sherlock Holmes books by painting Conan Doyle in the role of literary agent to a real Watson. There are echoes of the Young Sherlock Holmes movie adaptation, but they’re faint.
The change of setting and the young narrator let A Study in Charlotte avoid the clumsy efforts at Victorian English that plague so many Holmes adaptations. It’s not without its inelegant moments, but for the most part it’s an endearing read, just different enough from usual adaptations to keep the reader’s interest.
Proceed with caution, this is a young adult novel. As such, you may damage your vital literary street cred by reading it in public. For best results, read only after applying the dust jacket of Crime and Punishment or The Trial.