Lead Review

The hawk-nosed man, gaunt and too tall, stopped playing the violin. "Come in," he said even before the knock on the door. "You dabble in fable. You are a collector of sorts. Of stories? Of tales?" he told the man who entered.

"How..." asked Otto Penzler. But Holmes cut in, "Of a character perhaps, of someone who is considered a legend, a literary oddity, a super-sleuth? Someone like me?" Penzler gasped. "Elementary," said Holmes, "Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr, Jonny Lee Miller, Christopher Lee, so many actors have played me. But a book of pastiche, parody, fan-fiction and satire was yet to be. It was time, Otto." "Blimey, how do you know my name?"

"It is on the book you carry in your hand. May I borrow it, please?"

This could well be what Sherlock would have to say about the latest book on him, a whodunit of seamless proportions.

Sherlock: Over 80 Stories Starring the Greatest Detective of All Time, selected by Otto Penzler, with its cover of the trademark deerstalker hat, clay pipe, magnifying glass and violin, is sheer Holmes heaven. This is for the Holmes-less and the Holmes-sick. Here he is, in and as his own genre. Having spawned a literature of his own, inspiring over 25,000 stories, books and articles through the last century, he is back yet again.

All titles lead to Baker Street, where many Sherlocks solve many crimes in many cities at the same time, in the pages of one book. Sherlock appears as Hemlock Jones, Shamrock Jolnes, Solar Pons, Sherlaw Kombs and even Picklock Holes. Sometimes, as Stephen Leacock puts it, he is quite simply The Great Detective, nameless. Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle appear together or talk about each other from time to time; in James M Barrie’s The Adventure of the Two Collaborators, Sherlock’s last words are, "I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!"

Tongue-in-cheek titles like The Rape of the Sherlock (by A A Milne) keep faith with the general spirit of the book, which pokes fun as it subverts and self-mocks; Moriarty, in one story, "is merely the name of a soup." P G Wodehouse, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, Kingsley Amis and others bring out their inner Sherlocks in their own signature styles.

In O Henry's The Sleuths, the super-detective gets it super-wrong. And in AB Cox’s Holmes and the Dasher, Sherlock declares he is engaged to a woman he has just met.
In one of the stories, Dr Watson is so continuously amazed by Sherlock's casual brilliance, he keeps jumping to the ceiling, denting the ceiling badly in the process.

Even as Stephen King warns in The Doctor's Case: "If there was anything that rendered Holmes moodier than long periods of rain, it was being wrong." In many stories Holmes doesn’t quite get it right, starring as he does in delightful misadventures. Mrs Hudson solves crime, so does Mycroft. Watson too hits the bull’s eye from time to time. Old Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard fame even flashbacks to his own heroic days from a nursing home in Surrey.

Penzler, proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and member of the Baker Irregulars for some 40 years, says in the introduction: "About a hundred years ago, Sherlock Holmes was described as one of the three most famous people who ever lived, the other two being Jesus Christ and Houdini. There are some who claim that he is a fictional character, but this notion is, of course, absurd."

This book, let there be no doubt, is for die-hard Sherlockians. For the Irene Adlers in us and the loyal Watsons. Says Doyle, Sherlock’s creator who had famously tried to kill off his over-successful protagonist, only to have to bring him back to life because of a public outcry: "In nearly half the number of the Sherlock Holmes stories, however, in a strictly legal sense no crime was committed at all. One heard a good deal about crime and the criminal, but the reader was completely bluffed. Of course, I could not bluff him always, so sometimes I

had to give him a crime, and occasionally I had to make it a downright bad one." Doyle's own parody of Holmes — How Watson Learned the Trick — was, interestingly enough, written for a tiny library in Queen Mary’s dollhouse, on display at Windsor Castle.

In an example of the exquisite absurdities that await us in this book, James M Barrie’s The Late Sherlock Holmes mentions a court order to bring over the 'Falls of Reichenbach' to determine the veracity of Sherlock’s death. Which we know never happened and will never happen. This book is a clue.
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