My Study in Sherlock

Just today, I finished gleefully blazing through Laurie R. King’s book The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

You wouldn’t know it from the title, but it’s the first book in a series about a girl in the early 1900s who becomes Sherlock Holmes’ apprentice.

I had never heard of these books until I saw a facebook ad for book SIX, called The Pirate King. It was advertised as being about Sherlock Holmes’ female apprentice solving a case  involving a production of The Pirates of Penzance. I am a massive Gilbert and Sullivan fan, so any book about one of their operettas would have instantly drawn my interest regardless, but Sherlock Holmes and G&S?

And then I saw that the first book of the series involved beekeeping, and since I have a particular fondness for honeybees, I decided it was worth the time and effort of starting with book 1 and working my way up to the latest installment. And I am so glad I did!

I won’t gush over the details of the book, but it is written with a great deal of care and I highly recommend it. In fact, here’s a link to the first 50 pages if you’re interested:

The cover of Laurie R. King's 6th book in her Marry Russell series

Today, I want to talk about my own personal connection with mysteries and Holmes in particular.

Like many girls, I first encountered mysteries between the faded yellow covers of Carolyn Keene’s  The Secret of the Old Clock. Thanks to Nancy Drew, I learned how to walk on the edges of wooden stairs to prevent them from creaking. Even though my mother had the entire collection, I never finished the series.

Around book #15, my young mind finally caught onto the formula. I could predict the bad guy every time because it every book followed the same pattern: Nancy Drew goes on a vacation somewhere exotic and meets a bunch of people. One of those people is mean and suspicious and one of them is chummy. The bad guy is always the chummy one, especially if it’s a guy (after all, Nancy has a boyfriend, so all competition must turn out to be bad.)

Noticing that I needed a new challenge, my parents introduced me to Sherlock Holmes. My memories are vague on the particulars, but I think it was an audiobook of The Mystery of the Speckled Band. The bell pull, the low whistle, the saucer of milk all fascinated me. More than any other time period, I felt at home in Victorian England–just exotic enough technology to feel civilized, thick with delicious rules of society, and completely void of easy answers.

Sherlock and Watson interview Miss Stoner at the beginning of The Speckled Band

Since then, I became a casual Sherlockian. I can’t say that I gave the detective stories as many obsessive readings as my Star Wars books, but I was a solid fan for life. When I was a teenager my love of Holmes became overshadowed by my discovery of Agatha Christie’s detectives. Although I find Christie’s mysteries even more psychologically brilliant than Conan Doyle’s, I never formed a strong emotional connection with Miss Marple or Poirot. Some affection, yes, but I always found that the author somehow outshone her characters. But now my love of Sherlock has been rekindled!

And yes, call them fan fiction if you must, but nothing makes me smile like a well-written Sherlock spin-off.  There are many Sherlock fans who shun these reinterpretations, but I am not one of them. Here is my list of non-canonical Sherlock books, tv series, and movies that I have enjoyed over the years. I’m sure there are many that I’ve missed, so please feel free to leave a comment with a suggestion and I’ll eagerly check it out. 🙂

From the Saturday cartoon "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century"

1. Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (Television): Steampunk style cartoon from my preteen years that brought Sherlock into futuristic London after he’d been in a cryogenic sleep for hundreds of years. Watson is an AI robot and Lestrade is their female firepower who actually earns Holmes’ respect instead of getting underfoot.

Here’s a clip from the pilot episode on youtube:




2. Without a Clue (movie): Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley (one of my favorite actors) play Sherlock and Watson, but you quickly find out that Watson is actually the brains behind the detective agency. Nobody believes that he is clever enough to solve real cases, so he hired an alcoholic actor to play the famous detective of his stories. It’s VERY campy and slapstick, but worth watching at least once.




Our first modern day Sherlock and Watson

3. Sherlock (tv series): Absolutely brilliant series written by Steven Moffat of recent Dr. Who fame. I never would have believed that you could put Sherlock in modern day with any success, but Moffat pulls it off with perfect casting and a creative script. Season 1 (only three 1.5 hour episodes of pure gold) came out last fall. I am simply dying for season 2, but it won’t come out until 2012 😦

A clip from the show: 









4. Enola Holmes Mysteries (by Nancy Springer): Middle grade novels based on thirteen-year-old Enola who is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft. When her parents die suddenly, she works to track down the killer, and opens an office as a perditorian (finder of lost things). Her brothers do not approve because she’s only thirteen, so she has to do all of this while evading their searches.






4. The Sherlock Files (by Tracy Barrett): About Sherlock’s modern day descendants. I actually met Tracy at the writing conference I went to and we had a fabulous discussion about all things Holmes and she even signed my book! I haven’t read it yet, but it looks pretty short, so it won’t be long now!






5. The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (multiple authors): A short story collection of new cases invented by great names such as Steven King and Neil Gaiman. I only had the chance to read Robert J. Sawyer’s tongue-in-cheek “You See But You Do Not Observe”, but I hope to read them all at some point.

6.  Young Sherlock Holmes series (by Andrew Lane): About Sherlock when he is fourteen. On my to-be-read pile.

Oh, and to avoid someone suggesting it, I have already (reluctantly) watched the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie with Robert Downey Jr. and enjoyed it as an action movie, but don’t consider it a faithful representation of the stories. I liked Jude Law as Watson and I bought the entire soundtrack on Itunes because the music was a work of genius, but I considered everything else mostly rubbish. I like seeing Sherlock’s physical abilities given screen time, but I prefer my Holmes to be the clean-cut/academic type. There were far too many explosions in the movie for my taste.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Arizona
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 23:37:34

    Hi! I found this post while searching for Mary Russell-related things on Google, and immediately clicked on it when I saw it had something about Enola Holmes in it. Enola’s one of my absolute favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I just had to, ha!

    I became especially excited when I saw you had all of my other favorites here, too, but what made me comment was your summary of The Missing Marquess. I don’t mean to be rude at all, believe me, so I apologize if it offends you, but you made a few mistakes: Enola’s parents don’t die suddenly, her mother disappears, her father already having been dead for years. And she doesn’t go looking for their murderer, of course, but runs away to London to evade her brothers, who think that the ideal occupation for a girl of her age–fourteen; not thirteen–is being educated in the etiquette of a lady, in finishing school. She also plans, while there, to look for her mother.

    Hope that wasn’t too naggy D: just needed to say something!

    I definitely plan to use this to find more delicious Holmes spinoffs 😀 Great post!


  2. MissMystra
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 02:43:06

    Oh, how silly of me! As soon as I read your comment, I thought, “Did I really write that her parents died?” And yes, yes, I did, even though I do remember now that the whole plot of the book revolves around her mother’s disappearance. Thank you so much for the correction! What on earth was I thinking when I wrote that?!


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