Sherlock Holmes – you might have heard of him – and you’ve probably seen that there are one or two or thousands of tales of the great sleuth written since Doyle put his pen down for the final time. I’ve pretty much tended to ignore them all, as I still have only read a small portion of the originals. It would take something impressive to lure me to any of these pastiches.
Enter Edward D Hoch, author of over 950 short stories, and the reason that I subscribed to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for many, many years. Creator of many short story series, including my favourite, the impossible crimes of Dr Sam Hawthorne – as collected here, here and mentioned here, he wrote a number of Holmes stories over the years and they have been collected here – set throughout Holmes’ career and presented in chronological order. But do they match up to the originals or are they something different?
When I saw this book on Netgalley, I was more than a little excited. I love Hoch’s work, although it’s sadly under-reprinted (but see the bottom of the post for some fantastic news), so anything like this was completely unavoidable for me – and it’s a fantastic collection.
Hoch was able to contrive a clever, clued whodunit in a handful of pages and he does that over and over again here. The book starts off with a prologue that features a different character as the lead but then we’re into the normal style of story, narrated by Watson. And every one of the stories is a little mystery that the reader is effectively invited to solve before Holmes reveals the solution.
And there’s the difference between this and the original stories – you’re given the clues in advance to at least put you on the right lines for the solutions whereas Doyle, more often than not, would pull the solution apparently out of thin air. So if you’re looking for a slavishly faithful pastiche, then maybe this won’t be for you. But if you want a bunch of well-written, pint-sized mysteries to solve, then this certainly is for you.
There is another difference in the fact that there are a number of celebrity appearances, both Holmesian – Moriaty, Irene Adler and the Speckled Band – and real – Lewis Carroll and Jacques Futtrell, and a few other, more obscure, ones, such as Stephen Leacock – look him up. We also get a trip on the Titanic in probably the weakest of the stories – probably a bit too much going in the background. It demonstrates as well the danger of collecting short stories by the same author that were written years apart, as there are three stories that contain the same linguistic clue.
But these are niggles – this is a highly entertaining set of short stories from the master of the art. Highly Recommended.
My copy was provided by Netgalley and Open Road Media, the publishers. And the good news…
A number of collections of Hoch’s work have been released as ebooks from MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media - all of them were previously released years ago, but go for a huge amount on the second hand websites. Take a little care with the Simon Ark books, as the contents overlap somewhat, but there are some treasures here – not least, Leopold’s Way, collecting twenty two superb stories. I’ll keep you all updated as I go through them all. Oh, and Crippen and Landru have released the out of print More Things Impossible as an ebook. Hurrah!