alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll is now alone and near penniless. Curious about the secrets surrounding her father’s mysterious past and subsequent death, she begins a search for any information about the man who died when she was a small child. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s friend and research partner, may be nearby. Hyde is wanted for murder and there is a reward for information that leads to his capture. Money that Mary knows could solve many of her immediate financial problems.

Mary’s hunt however, leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana. A troubled child, she has been abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother, and is now left to be raised by nuns. Eager to leave the company of the nuns, Diana joins Mary in the search for Edward Hyde. The two women soon enlist the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and with their help find other women like them – women who seem to have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When the investigations point to a secret society of immoral and power hungry scientists, each young woman wonders if the past has finally caught up with her.

As a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, I will admit I was a bit cautious in my initial approach to The Strange Case… In the past I have learned that the writing in these kinds of books can be rather hit or miss. When the writer “hits the bulls eye” with their writing, they capture the feel of Victorian England and draw the reader in to the described realm completely. When the writer misses…sadly, they tend to miss completely.

For me, Goss has done an excellent job and while she doesn’t completely hit the bulls-eye, she is not terribly far off either. In combing through the rich treasure trove of stories of the time, she has taken well known characters and combined them with new and unique ones. As these ladies are the daughters of numerous well known “mad scientists”, their simple existence is completely plausible. That they all exist in the same world, while not probable, is equally plausible. Who is to say?

If there is one thing about the book that I don’t particularly like, it would have to be the occasional “interruptions” from the characters as the story goes along. Having the characters interject with commentary – some before we have even met them – while not detracting from the story as a whole, was something I found distracting. At times it pulled me completely out of the story.

On the whole, The Strange Case… is a decent read. Readers who enjoy some of the more gothic classics, like myself, will likely enjoy this first book in the series. Personally, I will be keeping an eye out for the second book, and hopefully one day a third and a fourth.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Legacy of Deeds by Nick Kyme

It is 1894; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson have been summoned to a Covent Garden art gallery. Dozens of patrons lie dead in a portrait gallery, their means of death unclear.

The search for clues leads them to cross paths with a mysterious figure in black, whose amazing speed and agility make capture impossible. This same person is suspect in a second murder when the servant of a visiting Russian grand duke is found mutilated in a notorious slum. The question is what connects these two events? And how are they connected to the apparent suicide of a teacher at a nearby girls’ boarding school?

So begins a case that reveals the shadows that past misdeeds can cast and the limits the detectives can face.

As a fan of the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I am always interested in the interpretations different authors can bring. What one author does, another might not, even if both are using the same characters set in the same universe.

Such can be said about Kyne’s The Legacy of Deeds. For while the characters bear the names we readers are familiar with, at times they did not seem to be the same individuals from the original Doyle stories.

To start with, the titular character Sherlock Holmes. While he is still the brilliant detective; brooding moodily when he is bored, cold and blunt when questioning others, skilled in combat, and completely dedicated to the pursuit of justice, his softer side is more evident. Something we do not see often – if at all – in Doyle’s version. It is certainly not something I am complaining about, dear reader, but it is something I thought pertinent to point out.

John Watson has also gone through a few minor changed from the original canon. He is still loyal to Holmes, clucking over him much like a mother hen and always trying to do the right thing, yet he is a bit overly melodramatic at times. Something Holmes himself comments on towards the end of the story. This does not detract from him doing what he can to assist Holmes and Scotland Yard in following the clues to their eventual conclusion.

One thing I did find different about The Legacy of Deeds was the actual conclusion. More often than not the culprit is revealed and arrested and the case is closed. This doesn’t quite happen here. For fear of giving away the end of the story, all I can say is that there is no clear cut resolution. The ending is shrouded in shades of gray much like the foggy streets of London where the majority of the action takes place. Some readers – much like our dear Sherlock Holmes – might find this bothersome. To not have an ending to a mystery that is neat and tidy can be irksome to some.

My overall impression of The Legacy of Deeds is a favorable one. While Kyme tends to use more modern day vernacular and phrasing for his prose, he has a good handle of the characters and uses them well. Fans of the Holmes genre will likely enjoy it and add it to their bookshelves as I have.

Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box by George Mann

It is the summer of 1915. As zeppelins rain fire upon the people of London, some of the more eminent members of society begin to show erratic behavior.

A famed suffragette suddenly denounces the women’s movement and just as suddenly throws herself beneath a passing train.

A senior military adviser speaks of surrender before jumping among the tigers at the London Zoo.

A member of Parliament gives a pro-German speech to other members of the House and later that day is found drowned in the Thames.

Desperate for some kind of answer, Mycroft Holmes reaches out to his younger brother – the now retired but still famed detective, Sherlock Holmes.

George Mann returns again with another page turning novel set in the ever familiar Sherlock Holmes universe. This particular tale is set during World War 1, some twenty years after Holmes’ and Watson’s heyday. Both men have retired; to Sussex and to the London suburbs, respectively. Yet when each hears the siren’s call of a new case, age is but a number and neither man can resist.

Astute readers will notice how age has changed both Holmes and Watson, almost reversing some of their traits. In The Spirit Box, Holmes has softened a bit in his mannerisms though certainly not in his detective skills or his wit. On the other hand, Watson has become a bit crotchety – something he admits himself! Time, and the knowledge that comes with it, can change a man and even great minds like Holmes and Watson are not immune.

Mann has done a quite successful job in adding to the Holmes “library” with this particular tale. While not completely reminiscent of Doyle’s original stories, it does have a similar literary flavor. It is also a crossover or sorts; introducing the reader to Sir Maurice Newbury – another character from another series Mann has penned. Newbury’s role is important and is also enough to possibly whet the appetite of the reader and cause them to seek out this other series.

I loved reading The Spirit Box. I certainly don’t need to tell any one here how I eagerly seek out new stories with this fictional detective, and while I am sometimes disappointed, books like this more than make up for it. In my opinion.

The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles (Warlock Holmes #2) by G.S. Denning

Warlock Holmes is back again! Sort of.

Warlock Holmes last adventure left him just a little…dead. Not one to let a little decay stop him, Holmes is determined to solve the cases that come to his door. Together, he and Watson will face the Pinkertons (the real ones), flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death and even Moriarty himself.

Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

Back when I reviewed the first Warlock Holmes novel, I recall saying how much I enjoyed it. How Denning’s take on two so well known and well loved characters was incredibly done. And how I would be eagerly looking forward for the second (and subsequent) books in the series.

With the second book, I am pleased to say that Denning continues in the vein of the original. Taking two characters and their stories and turning them on their ear. Yet Denning also strays from Doyle’s stories, not in a way that detracts but in a way that adds and makes the characters truly original.

I am reminded of one of my other favorite authors – Terry Pratchett – taking what we know (or what we think we know) and making us see it from a different angle.

Once again Denning has taken the well known world of Sherlock Holmes for a joy ride. Like the first novel, I laughed my way through the pages and even shed a few tears. And again like the first novel, I recommend this one to all my readers – especially my fellow Holmes and Watson fans.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

London, 1888. After a disastrous Ripper investigation, Sherlock Holmes languishes in a cocaine fueled haze in his flat on Baker Street. His good friend, John Watson, can neither comfort nor rouse his friend and is more and more worried about the other man’s health. The only thing that can rouse him is a new case and that comes in the form of an encoded letter from Paris.

Mlle La Victoire, a renowned cabaret star, has written to Holmes in great need. Her young son has been kidnapped and she fears his father, a known Lord, is to blame.

Holmes rushes to Paris with Watson at his side, where he finds the missing child to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The theft of a well known statue in Marseilles and the deaths of three children in Lancashire also vie for Holmes and Watson’s attention. The clues in all three cases eventually point to one man – an art collector who is seemingly above the reach of the law.

Art in the Blood is the first novel by movie and television executive and producer Bonnie MacBird. My dearest reader, if this is her first book and she has plans for writing more then I will be one happy person!

Art in the Blood follows our dear Holmes after a disastrous investigation in to the Jack the Ripper case. While what happened is alluded to, it is enough to make the reader guess that what occurred was not pleasant at all. For Sherlock or any one else.

MacBird does a wonderful job of penning a Holmes adventure; well enough to make Doyle himself proud. Clues are dropped throughout the narrative and only at the grand finale does everything come together and make sense.

The books only downfall comes with the way the characters speak at times. MacBird admits she was influenced by the actors who played Holmes and Watson themselves, from Jeremy Brett and David Burke to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It is evident that she drew heavily from the latter for speech for there are certain scenes – especially one particular scene with older brother Mycroft – that I heard the actor’s voices in my head.

Is this a bad thing? For me it isn’t as I adore the modern version of Sherlock Holmes just as much as I adore the original stories. However some readers might not like it, particularly those who regard themselves as “purists”.

MacBird says this is the first book in a proposed series. Personally, I greatly enjoyed this first foray and look forward to more.

Sherlock Holmes – The Patchwork Devil by Cavan Scott

World War 1 has come and gone, changing the face of history and of science. Holmes and Watson are retired men now, each having gone their separate ways. It is during one of Sherlock’s visits to London however that the two are called back in to action.

A severed hand has been found along the bank of the Thames. Fingerprints show the hand belongs to a young soldier who supposedly died in France – two years earlier. Yet the hand found is fresh and looks as if it were recently amputated. So how did it end up back in England when its owner was killed half a continent away? And what of the strange giant seen following them?

I am always pleased when a book manages to surprise me. Whether it be from how a character acts to a plot twist no one sees coming; I enjoy them all. So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and delight, dear reader, when I came across a book that is a combination of two of my favorite stories – Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein.

Just going by the blurb on the back of the book, I already had an inkling that the plot of The Patchwork Devil would likely hint at the original Frankenstein. A person or persons seeking to create life where once there was none, for whatever purpose. So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise (and delight) when during the course of their investigation, Holmes and Watson learn that their main suspect is a descendant of Viktor Frankenstein and has seemingly picked up his work!

Alas, to say much more would be to give away important spoilers so dear reader, I shall have to stop there.

Scott has done admirable work in giving a voice to older Holmes and Watson. There were several moments that had me smiling as the men attempted things that were possible in their younger days only to suffer the consequences and realize getting old is difficult! He also did excellent work with the character of Frankenstein’s monster. Those who read the original book know that he is an eloquent character, well spoken and quite intelligent. Unfortunately the movies (and sometimes books) have cast him as a shambling individual with a childlike intellect. Scott has reminded us that that man was anything but.

If I have any qualms with The Patchwork Devil, it would be how quickly everything was resolved. The whole mystery and bad guy were dealt with in what seemed like a matter of paragraphs. It felt a bit too rushed to my taste.

Other than that, I rather enjoyed this most recent Holmes tale. Readers like myself and those who like a good medical mystery will likely enjoy it as well.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning

Sherlock Holmes. A name, that when spoken, brings to mind a genius. A man who uses his brilliant mind to solve the most puzzling of crimes. A man whose name has become synonymous with deduction and reason.

Warlock Holmes, on the other hand, is an idiot who couldn’t deduce his way out of a paper bag. He is a good man with an incredible amount of arcane power and the might of a thousand demons at his beck and call; but he is also brilliantly dim. Fortunately he has his newest flatmate, Dr. John Watson, to steer him on the straight and narrow. And perhaps prevent Holmes from accidentally bringing down Armageddon on us all.

Friends of mine and fans of this blog will know I adore the character Sherlock Holmes. After being introduced to his original stories in high school (more years ago than I would care to admit), he wormed his way in to my heart and still he resides as one of my favorite characters. So when I saw this newest retelling of the familiar Holmes stories, I of course was intrigued.

Warlock Holmes is one of those books that I am so glad I bought for I will definitely be reading it again. Denning has a firm grasp of the original stories which allows him to mimic them while still leaving them recognizable. For instance, the first story is a retelling of the original ‘A Study in Scarlet’ which introduces us to Holmes and Watson. In the original story, we first see Holmes flogging a dead body with the intent of learning of post-mortem bruising patterns. In Denning’s version, Holmes is beating a dead body with a cricket bat because it is supposedly a zombie and wishes to dine on Holmes’ brain.

Personally, I found how Denning gave the familiar characters a complete makeover. He has taken two well known individuals and practically switched bodies on them. It is Watson who does the observing and deducing with Holmes being along for the ride. Denning does this with all the characters; from Moriarty to Mrs. Hudson; and it makes for a well done and refreshing read.

It isn’t often that I find a book that actually makes me laugh out loud, but I found myself doing just that several times while reading Warlock Holmes. Light hearted yet with a macabre side, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I recommend this one highly to all my readers and eagerly await the next novel!

The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes by Barry Grant

James Wilson has decided to retire from journalism and to live out his days in Hertfordshire. To make the rent a bit easier to handle, he agrees to take on a roommate. Upon meeting Mr. Cedric Coombes, Wilson finds the man’s behavior a tad eccentric and he also experiences a strange feeling and swears he has seen Mr. Coombes somewhere before.

When Coombes is asked to assist on a local murder, Wilson cannot help but to follow along. There he witnesses first hand a display of deductive reasoning that could only have come from a novel. After several instances of seeing such marvels, Wilson begins to wonder just who Coombes really is.

A retiring gentleman takes an apartment with an eccentric roommate only to find himself drawn in to a baffling mystery. The roommate has a brilliant mind, plays violin, and has a penchant for cocaine despite the laws and health risks. Sounds familiar, no?

If the basic plotline of The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes sounds familiar, it is with good reason. It is the first in a series and much like it’s predecessor, A Study in Scarlet, it introduces us two very familiar characters. And though the names have changed, much of the rest remains the same.

Grant has done his research well in regards to creating a unique yet familiar voice for Holmes. Much of his speech and mannerisms are the same, harkening back to his Victorian days, yet there are also minor differences as Holmes grows accustomed to modern times and modes of speaking. The way Holmes is brought in to the modern day is also handled well with enough factual science combined with a bit of hand waving to make the truth plausible.

One thing I found quite amusing, and is something I hope is continued through subsequent books; is how a goodly number of those who meet Coombes/Holmes for the first time have a kind of deja vu. They feel like they have seen him or met him before but can not quite place where. Once Wilson knows the truth about Coombes it is something he finds amusing, and is something I found funny as well.

As much as I enjoyed The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes, I found a few minor drawbacks. For me, I found the book too short. Much like the original story it is a novella and therefore under 200 pages. I found it too short to deal with the various threads of the story in a satisfactory manner.

The other point that irked me was how quickly and neatly the case was resolved. The villain fairly spelled out his crimes to Wilson and Holmes. There was little to no guessing as to who had done it.

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I liked reading The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was a light and fun story and reminded me a good deal of the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. Fans of Conan Doyle and Holmes might well enjoy this series.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Being a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, I am always curious as to who else enjoys the stories as I do. I know literary lovers run the gambit and come from every walk of life but sometime I come across one that surprises me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that famed NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was penning his own Holmesian mystery! We often forget that he is a UCLA graduate as an English/History major. With this book however, he proves aptly to never judge a book by its cover.

Mycroft Holmes is fresh out of Cambridge University. At the young age of twenty-three the elder Holmes brother is quickly making a name for himself in the British government. However as much as he loved Queen and country; a part of him is tied to Trinidad. It is the birthplace of Cyrus Douglas, Mycroft’s good friend and confidant, as well as the place where Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft’s fiance, was born and raised.

When troubling news of strange disappearances and mysterious footprints in the sand reach their ears, Georgiana abruptly leaves for Trinidad. Fearing for her safety, Mycroft convinces Douglas to follow her and the two men quickly set off in pursuit. Yet when they reach Trinidad and begin looking for Georgiana, they soon learn that not everything is as it seems. A dark web of secrets ensnares them and becomes more deadly the closer they get to the truth.

Mycroft Holmes is a fresh take on the Sherlock Holmes canon. The character himself appeared in only four of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, leaving readers and fans a great deal of leeway in regards to Sherlock Holmes elder brother. Abdul-Jabbar seizes the opportunity to flesh out this intriguing character and he does it incredibly well.

It is quite clear that Abdul-Jabbar is not only a fan of the original Conan Doyle mysteries but that he did his research as well. Mycroft says how he spent a few summers studying with a Dr. Joseph Bell as a young man; knowledgeable readers will know that Conan Doyle studies with Dr. Bell and it was he who was the original inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes. Great research was also done for the different locations, from Victorian London to Trinidad of that same time. Great care is given in describing the locales and makes it easy to imagine being there.

I did find the book a tad slow in the beginning and as such had to almost force myself to continue reading. The action did however begin to pick up and once it did I found the book difficult to put down. Once it hit its stride, the story made great leaps and bounds before coming to a satisfying conclusion. There were a few moments where the reader might have to suspend belief as little more than usual, but I found that rare.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have thrilled readers for over a century now and during all that time his elder brother Mycroft was often left in the shadows. In Mycroft Holmes, he is given a chance to shine and he does with aplomb. Fans of Conan Doyle should definitely give this one a read because it gives a very plausible backstory to a most fascinating and overlooked character.