Friday, December 12, 2008

Forgotten Books: Holmes for the Holidays

There is one overriding reason why Sherlock Holmes is so popular over 120 years after his first adventure: we love the atmosphere of Victorian England. The sounds of the clip-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones, the sights of men and women dressed in late-Victorian finery, the smell of a crackling fire in a tavern, they all go together and form something special and unique. It’s a nostalgia for a time we’ve never known but, through the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, we can know and come to love.

With all the emotion surrounding Sherlock Holmes and his redoubtable friend, Dr. John Watson, it is no surprise that, of all the adventures, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is constantly mentioned as a perennial favorite. I re-read the story last week (review here) and I can find little to dislike about the story. One aspect of the story, however, always saddens me: it’s the only Christmas Sherlock Holmes story.

The editors of Holmes for the Holidays must have experienced the same sadness. Martin Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh, with the blessing of Dame Jean Conan Doyle, commissioned fourteen authors to try their hand at a Holmes and Watson story set during the last week of December. The results are all quite good.

And how could they not be? Just look at some of the names:
Anne Perry (famous for her historical novels)
Loren D. Estleman (see Kerrie Smith's review of Sugartown from last week’s FFB)
• Jon L. Breen (reviewer for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine; interview here)
Bill Crider (author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and a fellow FFB contributor)
• Carole Nelson Douglas (author of the Irene Adler series)
Edward D. Hoch (prolific short story writer whom we lost this year)

As you read these stories, take special note of the historical details about Christmas itself. Remember, these are stories written by authors in the 1990s about the late 1800s. Moreover, the 1880s are forty years after Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the book credited with changing Christmas to what we know it today. Different authors focus on different aspects of the Christmas season, all with two men who are proper English gentlemen. It’s a telling trait, yet a fun one.

Speaking of Dickens, two of the better stories both concern themselves with Scrooge, Marley, Tim Cratchit, and a certain set of three ghosts. Loren Estleman’s “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” concerns itself with Lord Chislehurst, a Member of Parliament, and in need of Holmes’ assistance. You see, three ghosts have visited the Lord, just like his father’s old boss. You see where this is going and the true identity of the Lord? Yeah, he’s the grown-up Tiny Tim who now owns Scrooge old counting firm. In this story, Dickens is real and is the man who “chronicled” the story of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. Watson’s read the book but Holmes knows nothing about it. In fact, Lord Chislehurst/Tim Cratchit doesn’t like the book. Holmes and Watson take the case and, in their usual √©lan, solve the case…although the ending is not entirely predictable.

Bill Crider tackles the same material but puts a different spin on the story. In “The Adventure of the Christmas Ghosts,” three ghosts are besetting the grandnephew of Ebenezer Scrooge, Franklin, as well. Holmes suspects foul play—natch—and lands his suspicion on Timothy Cratchit (i.e., Tiny Tim) who still works in the counting house. Crider highlights Holmes’ often eccentric qualities, including his acting ability, in this fun little story also with an ending that’s not entirely expected.

With any anthology, you don’t often have to read the stories in order. I’d recommend reading these two Scrooge stories back-to-back. You’ll get a sense of how the two authors both treat the same subject, how they see the original Christmas Carol tale, and how the perpetrators in each story use similar methods. Estleman’s story references other Holmes stories that’ll be sure to garner a smile as you read it. Crider’s piece is funnier in that, with a wink and a nod, he inserts famous lines that’ll pull a chuckle from somewhere inside you.
“Let us not get our stories out of order,” said Holmes. “Marley first. He died. Is that not correct?”
“Yes [Franklin said]. Marley was dead. There can be no doubt about that.”
Just as I have my Christmas music CDs that I store for eleven months out of the year, I have some favorite anthologies of Christmas stories that share space in the same box. Of all them, Holmes for the Holidays is my favorite. It evokes certain images, particular Christmastime feelings, that I, as Texan don’t always get to experience. Except last night. Last night was special. It snowed in Houston (yes, it really did). I could see it out my back door. I sat on the couch, a fire in the fireplace, the Christmas tree at my side, a cup of wassail steaming on the coffee table, and I re-read these stories about a couple of old friends. Why not find a copy and make a new tradition of reading these stories in December. You won’t be disappointed.


Unknown said...

I need to find a copy of this.

pattinase (abbott) said...

As always, Scott, a terrific job of covering territory here.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I love Holmes but have not read any for eons. You've given me the fancy to dip back into Doyle.

Paul Bishop said...


Anonymous said...

There's also "More Holmes for the Holidays", which is even available as an ebook -

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