Arthur Conan Doyle created perhaps the most famous detective in literary history when he introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. But it has been a while since Doyle passed away (1930), so the mantle of carrying the Holmes legacy forward has fallen – sometimes officially and sometimes not – to other writers. There have been a number of Sherlock Holmes stories and books written by other authors, what is known as “pastiche.” Some of these efforts were good. Others not quite so. And that is often because the authors who have tried their hand at Holmes knew more about Sherlock than about writing.
But what if you got together some really great authors and asked them to write a Sherlock Homes story? Bestselling thriller authors like Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, Alan Bradley and Laura Lippman? And then get the collection edited by two Holmes experts (who are terrific writers in their own right), Laurie S King and Leslie S Klinger? Well, you would end up with a collection of Holmes stories that are a mix of very different approaches but are almost all brilliantly written – which is exactly what you get in A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon.
A Study in Sherlock is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories by eighteen authors. You get sixteen stories in all (two have been jointly written by a pair of authors) and the result is sheer magic. And that is because very few of the authors make the mistake that many others writing Holmes stories make – they do not try to write like Conan Doyle. In fact, some of the stories do not even have Holmes as a main character but instead have him lurking in the backdrop. Laura Lippman, for instance, creates a modern character called Sheila-Locke Holmes and serves us a wonderful story of a young girl with amazing powers of observation. Lee Child, the man who gave us the astounding Jack Reacher, turns his tale into an FBI agent investigating a crime in Baker Street. Thomas Perry puts Holmes and Watson in the US at the request of the US President. And then there is perhaps the most spectacular story of them all – a short comic from Colin Cotterill on how he struggled to write his contribution to this book in the utterly hilarious “The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story.”
Of course, we have seen collections of Holmes stories by other authors before but what makes A Study in Sherlock very different from the others is the sheer quality and variety of content. These are not writers trying to continue the Holmes saga, but masters of their crafty reinventing the sleuth as they saw him. This is not Holmes seen by Doyle, but Holmes as seen by others. Some hardcore Sherlock Holmes might not like the results, but more neutral ones will definitely appreciate the nuance at work here. A good feature of the collection is that it is relatively compact – most of the stories span ten to twenty pages – so the narration is taut and crisp with not much space wasted. A weak point is that there is no real flow between the stories as every author approaches Sherlock differently. The change in tone and narration can be really jarring. As a result, you cannot just move from one story to another – we literally had to pause for a day between stories in order to really appreciate the book.
All of which makes A Study in Sherlock perhaps the most innovative take on the Baker Street detective. It is a very jerky and unusual ride, but the sights you get to see are amazing. And we think that makes it a must-read for anyone who is interested in Sherlock Holmes, unless of course they are absolutely addicted to the detective the way Conan Doyle saw him.