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|Reviewed: The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes: Volume 4|
|Sherlockian pastiche comes in a variety of forms, but for the sake of simplicity there are really but two basic types - those that aim to take Holmes out of the Canon (placing him in unusual circumstances, taking a different narrative form or voice, dropping in historical figures, etc…) and those that aim to extend the Canon (maintaining familiar characterization, settings, tone and story structure). The published stories of Denis O. Smith tend to fall squarely into the latter category, and his current book - The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes: Volume Four - is, for the most part, no exception.
Contained in this volume are four Holmes stories that are decidedly traditional but somewhat variable in their individual success. While the settings, imitation of Doyle’s general style and Watson’s voice is quite well done the plotting and in one case, the sheer length, is a little off the mark. Smith has a tendency to take a bit long in getting to any sort of point, but for the most part this is no real detriment, as the flow of events still seems quite natural, if not as concise as Doyle. The overall effect is however a pleasing one, but…
The first story The Adventure of the Von Strauffhausen Papers is, in my estimation, the weakest entry in the book, so much so that I wondered if this was really the same D. O. Smith whose earlier stories I so admire. Quite frankly I nearly put the book down after the first paragraph, as four of the first five sentences contain the phrase “the matter”. Unfortunately this was not the only problem as the story itself is little more than an over-lengthy reworking of key elements found in BRUC, NAVA, SECO and even a bit of LAST. In short we are treated to another case where a seemingly careless government official has lost some valuable papers placed in his care and if the loss is made public, dire consequences could befall the nation, etc, etc, etc…add to that one stock nasty German and you now have the basics of the story before you. Not only is the story itself an obvious Canonical imitation, but at times, so is some of the dialogue. For example we have this exchange between Holmes and Watson that cannot help but sound rather familiar to even the most novice of Sherlockian readers:
‘The whole business struck me as remarkable, ‘ I returned. ‘I cannot recall that any one feature of it struck me as more so than the rest.’
‘Not the singular behaviour of Viscount Hardigate with his umbrella?’
‘But Viscount Hardigate did nothing with his umbrella, save tap it on the pavement!’
‘That,’ said Holmes, ‘was the singular behaviour.’
While this sort of dialogue does, I suppose, add to the traditional pastiche feel of the book, it is a bit too much in the way of imitation to sit comfortably with this reader. The inclusion of the stock German character seems to have been a good excuse for a bit of an extension of the classic “East wind” speech. Unfortunately it came off sounding more like a rant from Holmes against tyranny and Germans in general, which struck me as somewhat out of character for the detective. Happily, this sort of thing is not common in the remainder of the book, but it did make the opening story a fairly uninspired and somewhat tedious affair. I expect better from Smith, and happily, with the remaining three stories, I got it!
The second story The North Walk Mystery is a fairly decent little mystery that involves a murder in Chambers at the Inner Temple, with a possible ghost suspected as the culprit. Needless to say, in the traditional pastiche format, no ghosts need apply! It is a tight little story, which rapidly restored my faith in the author’s abilities after my disappointment in the opening story. A touch more of the police procedural form than one would expect, but somehow it worked very nicely.
The third, and centrepiece, story – The Adventure of the Willow Pool – is by far the most involved and lengthy work in the book. While all of the stories run a touch long, at one hundred pages this is a fairly extreme deviation from the Canonical norm. I can’t help but think that Doyle would have dealt with it in less than half the page count with absolutely no loss to the plot, but that’s Doyle. Still, Smith keeps the reader interested throughout the lengthy piece that owes as much to the Canon as it does to elements found in the plot to A. E. W. Mason’s The Four Feathers. In short a soldier returns home after serving in Afghanistan to find that he is shunned not only by the locals but also by his father, friends and fiancée. Being a sensible young man, he turns to Holmes to clear his name, and in so doing also find the key to a long stale murder! The leisurely pace allows Smith to do what he does better than just about any other pastiche artist, give the Sherlockian reader that great familiar sense of place and time that one gets from the Canon. His descriptions are wonderfully full yet never drift into overworked padding. Rather a neat trick when one again considers the length of the story. Quite frankly, the Watsonian voice has never been better imitated.
The final story – The Adventure of the Yellow Glove – is the most successful and enjoyable entry in this collection. Short (when compared to the prior stories) it contains the best elements of a Sherlock Holmes story. A somewhat feckless young man, entrusted with his Uncle’s business, comes to Holmes for assistance after an odd consultation with a foreign business prospect and his strange wife leaves him with a yellow glove and a great many doubts about the safety of his firm. Yes, the seasoned reader will scent the similarities to elements of REDH, but the way Smith carries it out is a sheer joy.
When all is said and done, I found the bulk of The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes: Volume Four to be an agreeable pastiche read. However, if you prefer pastiche that goes far beyond familiar Canonical ground, then don’t bother with this volume as it isn’t for you, but for the Sherlockian enthusiast that distrusts pastiche for its tendency to lack Canonical style, or the authentic Watsonian voice; I suggest you give this or an earlier volume of Smith’s work a try, you won't regret it!
This, and other fine Sherlockian titles, can be had from the Calabash Press. Click here to visit the Calabash Press website now!
Recommendation: A relatively good choice suited for the Sherlockian reader that enjoys very traditional pastiche.
|The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes: Volume 4
Author: Denis O. Smith
First Published: 2002 - Calabash Press
ISBN: 1-55310-040-9 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1-55310-041-7 (Trade Paperback)
Price: $31.00 USD (hardcover)/$21.00 USD (trade paperback)
Reviewed by: Charles Prepolec
Click here for ordering information at Calabash Press