Title: TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE BAKER STREETS
Editor: David Thomas Moore
Publisher: Abaddon Books
Genre: Speculative Fiction Anthology
“As a Victorian, Sherlock Holmes is more Wilde than Disraeli. He’s not the stuffy, pompous, superior gentleman of the public imagination, but a fey, brooding, dangerous Hob, a mad genius bent on his own destruction, whose passion for the hunt is as much a mark of his unsteady mind as his cocaine abuse. Taking him out of Doyle’s time – Doyle’s world – allows you to showcase the real Holmes, to audiences that might never find him otherwise. This was my chance to do that.”
WHAT I THOUGHT
This is Abaddon Books first anthology and features fourteen very assorted stories in which the invited authors were given carte blanche by editor, David Thomas Moore, to put Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson and yes, even Inspector Lestrade, anytime and anywhere they want. And, as a result, we are presented with a varied and eclectic mix that include a female Holmes, a gay Holmes, a couple of classic Holmes, a Holmes who owns a travelling circus and, just as much fun, a Holmes who is a summoned demon; but more on that later.
Anthologies are, for me at least, something akin to a box of assorted chocolates; they can be a hit or miss. But, among this collection, there are some truly outstanding stories. A couple come with really cool settings, others neat twists, many with clever banter between the characters, but what all these ‘stand-out’ stories share is excellent story-telling by their respective authors.
Authors such as Jamie Wyman, who takes Holmes and Watson and drops them into Mid-West America in a travelling carnival. A killer story which gave me a truly memorable opening act to the anthology. I sucked up A Scandal In Hobohemia so quickly I arrived at the end with the equivalent of ice-cream brain-freeze. What a neat re-casting of our favourite characters, I mean, Holmes reborn as the Master of Ceremonies, Sanford Haus, Irene Adler as Adele Trent a Pinkerton investigator, with her colleague Jim Walker taking on the Watson role. Never mind the recasting of Mrs. Hudson as … no, I better not!
Fun, fast-paced, richly detailed and immensely readable. As was A Woman’s Place by Emma Newman gifting us a look into a possible future Britain where a dubiously benign DotGov watches everyone but Holmes. A Holmes who, as it turns out …what? Oh, I can’t tell you that either without spoiling the fun. Needless to say the unflappable Mrs. Hudson steals the whole show, at the end, when all is revealed.
Following on from Newman comes A Study In Scarborough from the cleverly cunning mind of Guy Adams, whose writing I love. This seemingly innocuous tale of journalist Arthur Doyle interviewing the retired actor, John Watson, was so delicious that I had to go back and read it a second time. The inter-cut of the BBC radio play dialogue add a touch of the 50s to a story that unfolds like an origami crane, never quite as you think it might.
Not to be outdone, in The Small World of 221B, Ian Edginton gives us, what at first read seems like a classic Doylesque-written Watson and Holmes tale, but one that turns out to have another rather clever twist at curtain-close. I loved the premise and execution. And, again, like A Study In Scarborough by Adams, this was deftly written.
Whatever the time or place, none went quite as far afield—or is that beyond time and space itself?—as did Adrian Tchaikovsky in his, The Final Conjuration, in which minor magician and one of the 7 great wizard Lord’s apprentice, Wu Tsen, must once again recruit the aid of his pet demon, the Sherlock … What, pet demon? Yes, that’s exactly what I thought. Tchaikovsky takes Holmes out of his usual setting, and throws him headlong into a fantastical world of magic. One in which magic is unable to deduce let alone ‘see’ truth—a world in which only the Sherlock can. By the end of this I felt almost sorry for poor Wu Tsen having to deal with the foibles and quirks of the Sherlock. Great fun!
Just when I thought the writing couldn’t get any better. When I’m still smiling to myself over the fate of Wu Tsen. I started reading another superbly written magical fantasy set in a world that, I have to admit, I’ve kind of fallen in love with. Well, at least the idea of it. In The Innocent Icarus by James Lovegrove everyone has an ability. Everyone is gifted with a unique talent. For our fine fellow Dr. Watson, it is super strength and the ability to withstand pain. But, in this world populated by people who can fly, run fast, distinguish unique smells, or swim under water, we discover that Holmes is nothing more than an ‘Ordinary’ …
And yet, not so ordinary, when he uses his unique talents and skills of deduction to solve the murder of one Sir Hugh Lancaster. With its alternate Victorian-era setting, straight-laced manners, and almost steampunk-feel, The Innocent Icarus really delivers what I hoped all the stories in the anthology might, a thoroughly engrossing, richly detailed, well-delineated character story to read.
It’s the sheer quality of storytelling by this handful of authors that makes Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets a cut-above the rest, and well worth buying to read for those stories alone.
Rating: 7.5 / 10