Riju Ganguly's Reviews > The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by John Joseph Adams
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Oct 17, 11

Read from October 13 to 17, 2011

This fascinating collection of pastiches represent both extremes of apocryphal Sherlockiana: some of them place Holmes in pretty outre situations that are bound to be considered as plain improbable (and hence not to be considered even with a few sacks of salt for anything apart from 'fun'), and some are so realistically (that is in the style of Sir ACD, and not of some pompous pretender) created that they could have walked into the canon. Unfortunately, there are also quite a few stories (as are bound to slip in such a hefty tome) that are neither realistic nor 'fun'. But let me recount the stories one-by-one: -

(*) Introduction by J.J.Adams: a frank confession regarding his editorial ambition, as well as clarification that this book consists of almost entirely reprints.

(*) A Sherlockiana Primer: a very good introduction to the Gaslit world of Holmes & Watson for the novice and the naive.

1) "THE DOCTOR'S CASE" by Stephen King: a stunning story, which could have been very much probable.
2) "The Horror of the Many Faces" by Tim Lebbon: a sharp decline after the high of the first story, this one is improbable (with all its Lovecraftian under/over-tones) as well as rather unwarrantably long.
3) "The Case of the Bloodless Sock" by Anne Perry: a very good story, and nothing 'improbable' as such in the story or the characters.
4) "THE ADVENTURE OF THE OTHER DETECTIVE" by Bradley H. Sinor: improbability strikes with a vengeance as Dr. Watson (and the reader) visits an alternate reality where Professor Moriarty occupies 221B Baker Street, accompanied by Sergeant Murray, and the inevitable happens, er..., inevitably.
5) "A Scandal in Montreal" by Edward D. Hoch: unfortunately, this is one of the poorer stories, taking Holmes to Canada, involving Irene Adler (the lady must have taken serious offense at such a poor portrayal as happens in this story), despite originating from the pen of one of the most prolific & consistent mystery-writers.
6) "THE ADVENTURE OF FIELD THEOREMS" by Vonda N. McIntyre: a superb fun' ride, and after the stories in No. 1 & 4, this one lightens up the reading substantially.
7) "The Adventure of the Death-Fetch" by Darrell Schweitzer: an enjoyable story, totally improbable, but not bad.
8) "The Shocking Affair of the Dutch Steamship Friesland" by Mary Robinette Kowal: neither that shocking, nor that enjoyable, merely readable.
9) "The Adventure of the Mummy's Curse" by H.Paul Jeffers: improbable because it claims Watson to be a Master Mason, a mediocre story that involved a mystery which could have been easily solved by Inspector Lestrade had the case been brought to him.
10) "THE THINGS THAT SHALL COME UPON THEM" by Barbara Roden: a brilliant and dazzlingly competent story that brings together the pioneer Consulting & Occult detectives (Sherlock Holmes & Flaxman Low, respectively) to solve a mystery that had begun with one of the greatest horror stories in literature ("Casting The Runes") written by the greatest ghost-story writer (M.R.James) and solves the story without disrespecting anybody, and yet with just enough ambivalence at the end to challenge the reader to draw the conclusion.
11) "Murder to Music" by Anthony Burges: another sensationalist drama involving Watson treating obscure East Asian diseases in London (according to "The Dying Detective" he literally knew nothing about them), attempted assassination of the Spanish Monarch inside a train in London by using bombs that would explode at certain musical pitch, and Holmes learning about Spanish-inter-feuds during his stay at Marrakesh(???)and later publicly insulting Watson, four improbable things in a pretty mediocre story, which in itself is a feat!
12) "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjustor" by Stephen Baxter: a 'fun' story, completely improbable, but enjoyable in an off-hand manner.
13) "MRS. HUDSON'S CASE" by Laurie R. King: a jewel-like story where the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson steals the thunder in her own style.
14) "THE SINGULAR HABITS OF WASPS" by Geoffrey A. Landis: science-fiction, mystery, horror, Holmes and Jack The Ripper, and all in less than 20 pages! You really can't have any more 'fun'.
15) "The Affair of the 46th Birthday" by Amy Myers: another mediocre story involving attempted assassination, Medici Ring, Russia and Italy (at least it spared France or Germany, or were they 'covered' in story no. 11, not sure, really).
16) "The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey" by Peter Tremayne: an average story, definitely improbable (Holmes falling in love with a villainous girl, who, after killing her father [THE James Philimore, who, after returning to his home to collect his umbrella, was never seen again], marries Professor Moriarty, and allows all the property to pass on to the Professor), definitely NOT re-readable.
17) "THE VALE OF THE WHITE HORSE" by Sharyn McCrumb: a superlative and gothic story involving family-curses and murder most heinous.
18) "The Adventure of the Dorset Street Lodger" by Michael Moorcock: good, readable, but the end could have been predicted by any Sherlockian long-long ago.
19) "The Adventure of the Lost World" by Dominic Green: a 'fun' story, with adequate mixture of humour and gore, throwing couple of Allosaurus in-between!
20) "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece" by Barbara Hambly: this story is a classic example of British cuisine, where several good ingredients (Holmes & Carnaki) mixed with a lot of labour (almost 20 pages) and good intent (to spice up Lovecraftian horror with several shades of 'The Great Beast' incorporated for effect, nothing less), end up in a pathetically tasteless food, simply because the author didn't know when to stop and where to allow the readers to draw their own conclusion, unlike the one written by Barbara Roden, which is a study in restraint.
21) "Dynamics of a Hanging" by Tony Pi: this is a vile story which is completely improbable, and devoid of any redeeming feature, despite involving Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle who has been murdered by Moriarty to ensure the secrecy of Moriarty's cipher, and Lewis Carroll, who gets Moriarty evicted from University without any proof and simply by spreading vile rumours. See now why I am so eager to bring a blunt instrument in immediate contact with Mr. Pi on a priority basis?
22) "Merridew of Abominable Memory" by Chris Roberson: improbable, and not-so-much fun.
23) "Commonplaces" by Naomi Novik: hmmm..... Holmes loves Watson (never expressed, but expected to be reciprocated nevertheless, leading to their "estrangement" during the hiatus since the good Doctor had got married), Irene Norton locates Holmes with a minimum of search, Holmes makes love with Irene, and Irene rediscovers herself. Really, how damnably improbable can a pastiche be? Greater men (& women) have already commented that stupidity has no limits, etc. etc.
24) "The Adventure of the Pirates of Devil's Cape" by Rob Rogers: a solid, enjoyable, and improbable story. Big relief after that ****** **** from Ms. Novik.
25) "The Adventure of the Green Skull" by Mark Valentine: a readable, poignant story without much of mystery or improbability.
26) "The Human Mystery" by Tanith Lee: yes, a masterly touch in this story, although I doubt even a misogynist like Holmes could have understood things after such a long time, perhaps that's what makes this story improbable.
27) "A STUDY IN EMERALD" by Neil Gaiman: a classic, and if you are yet to encounter this take on alternate universe, then I would recommend you to purchase the book and plunge head-first in this story.
28) "You See But You Do Not Observe" by Robert J. Sawyer: a very good story with a very strong dosage of science-fiction, if not science, and with a certain pathos.

Overall, out of 28 stories there are 8 superlative stories (a staggering percentage, let me state), 11 enjoyable stories, 3 moderately good stories, 4 clunkers, and 2 worthy of consigning their creators to some particular literary hell). To sum up, quite good. Recommended.
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