Contained in Kelly’s collection of thirteen Sherlock Holmes pastiches are stories of outstanding quality, each crafted to the perfect length and level of action. It is quite clear that the mind in which these tales were conceived has spent a significant amount of time communing (in the non-spiritualist sense of course) with that of ACD and/or Watson. Kelly’s attention to detail and pacing, his allegiance to the Watsonian brevity and discretion and, perhaps most importantly, his refusal to take the easy way out (Aha! Moriarty is back!) makes for a delightful collection of original yet familiar stories. One is tempted to race through the entire set of tales but the prudent reader will resist this urge and instead savor one or two stories a day (or evening).
[A scene from “The Mysterious Death of the Kennington Verger”.]
Overall, Mr. Kelly remains true to Watson’s voice except in two notable ways. The first is an inordinate number of references to Holmes’ fee, either by Holmes himself or by the client. In some ways, this slight divergence from what we normally expect of ‘fixed rate’ Holmes is a bit jarring, but it does add a touch of tacitly assumed realism; for the detective that declared ”I am a poor man”, fingering a Duke’s £6000 cheque, must have thought about money occasionally.
The second and more obvious divergence from Watsonian habit is Mr. Kelly’s reliance on a more graphic approach to describing the various crimes and murders that populate these pastiches. The descriptions tend more toward the clinical than the gratuitous but, like the numerous references to money, the reader experiences a slight sense of literary vertigo listening to Watson depart from his particular tasteful constraint.
Fortunately, neither of these minor canonical divergences detract from enjoying the temporary illusion of reading ‘lost’ Sherlock Holmes cases. If I had to lodge one complaint it would be that Kelly allows Watson to be repeatedly and un-waveringly impressed with Holmes’ deductions, be they spectacular or pedestrian. At a certain point in their relationship one assumes that Watson would eventually become at least slightly immune. Maybe we live in more jaded times but I find myself imagining the more mature Watson feigning incredulity and awe if for no other reason but to retain the 221B status quo.
On a final note, Mycroft Holmes makes more than a few welcome appearances in these stories - perhaps the man that at times ‘was’ the British government had a hand in gently suppressing cases he was involved? Kelly has a knack for writing Mycroft and his judicious inclusions are great fun to read.
If on a rainy Sunday, like many Sherlockians, you find yourself hankering for novel adventures of Team Holmes & Watson, consider picking up The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.
Interview with Gerard Kelly.
Alistair Duncan’s review of The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.