Associates of Sherlock Holmes: A review

George Mann Edits

Click on the image above to see the Amazon Books Page, or go to this link for the direct Titan Books source (remember folks, the author gets more appreciation when you buy from the source!)

…a collection of coolly polished short stories in which Sherlock Holmes is seen through the eyes of other characters in the Holmesian canon. Many of these are former clients; the rest are those who simply have the cause and means to have crossed paths with the Great Detective or know him from their personal circles. Not only do these Associates have their own story to tell with Mr. Holmes involved in it in some way, they are all people who  can no longer claim to live outside the limelight: knowing Mr. Holmes has changed their lives forever. A few will tell you their lives were changed for the worse, but the reader can make that call for themselves.  This is their chance, and these are the stories they choose to tell us.

I’m reviewing this partially because this book qualifies for the “what ho, geekery” and “poke your librarian” categories. Having lived as a library minion in a previous job incarnation, the search to find actually good tribute fiction for ACD’s characters was at times…deeply unsatisfying. My old boss at NRCTC would approve of this, as well as give a few choice passages some satisfied snickers. Are you reading this, Bob Coston?

Lyndsey Faye’s name is no stranger to readers who love canon-centric stories, and she has given Stanley Hopkins a rare chance to use his voice in River of Silence (word play not intended here, honest). This is a likable young man, on fire with his determination to make a difference and do good in the world as a policeman—which is cross-grained against the hopes of his family. The story starts out cheerily enough but the sunbeams go away almost without warning. Very soon we get a layer of this warmth peeled off. Then another. Then another. Hopkins is not a wide-eyed stripling after all. He worked very hard to get to his proud post, and he did it with his eyes wide open in the face of his generation’s worst crimes. He is determined to succeed, even if it means living with the ghosts of his pasts, the shame of his old division, and accepting gifts of meals from his family in trade for constant reassurance.  Holmes observes this young new Associate, with an initial glitter of amusement, but that soon melts into a quiet respect for the Yarder’s determination when he sees this is not just another gushing fan of Watson’s writings. Watson and Lestrade are thoroughly enjoyable voices of support for the case, which opens in a jaw-dropping light: a severed arm in a teakwood box found in the Thames.  Faye’s Homes is so many steps ahead of everyone else one must learn to get out of the way, and when it is time to join the race. Hopkins learns quickly, but not quickly enough to suit him.

Pure Swank from James Lovegrove gives us a rare Associate, Barker the rival detective in RETI and one who has known Sherlock Holmes for many years. Lovegrove cleverly ties Barker with EMPT and even STUD and from that point on we truly begin to wonder about the “other” cases and adventures that fell through the cracks of London.   There is a lot to like about Barker, for he is clever and competent and willing to work quite hard for his results. But his attitude to Watson is not so likable and it demonstrates an unrecognized jealousy of the good doctor that whispers of the price paid to grow up in the shadow of a greater man. The story revolves around the Retired Colourman, but the relationship of Holmes and Barker are in constant orbit. Barker admires Holmes; he also feels rage at him, jealousy, and constantly wobbles between bitterness and admiration, and as far as crime goes, he gets better than he got–or at least he appears to.  At the end the belief that he has tricked Holmes is an open one. Did he or didn’t he? Barker is a good detective and we are not given the answer. We have to decide it for ourselves.

Colonel Moran is no light character, and Big Game Hunting in the Pacific Northwest is a real treat. Tim Pratt’s story begins and ends in his cell and the bulk of the tale is how Moran dealt with the loss of fortune in Moriarty by taking up an incredibly ill-advised hunt in the Pacific Northwest.  Being a relative newcomer myself to The Great North-Wet, I was sniggering at the Colonel’s first-hand introduction to the land of 100% humidity and moss-as-roofing-insulation but it wasn’t long before I was muttering, “Oh, bleep, no!” Moran is a royally certified monster who hunts monsters, but some of the things he encounters are quite worse than a tiger in a sewer.  He’s relieved to be back in his own wilds of English civilization, and his memoir ends on the optimistic note gauging his chances of finishing the shot on Holmes. That’s the spirit, Moran. Stay positive.

A Dormitory Haunting by Jamie Fenn gives us a Violet Hunter who is truly at a crossroads in her life.  This strong, determined woman takes her duties at her girls’ school quite seriously and the small matter of a haunting directed at one particular pupil is affecting the rest of the children. A potential suitor lifts her curiosity despite their different backgrounds. Miss Hunter’s refusal to accept the supernatural leads her to unpleasant twists and turns and answers are really doorways into further, deeper questions.  There’s more than a little bit of the classic Victorian ghost-stories in here, where the “ghost” is unimportant compared to what its believed presence does to the living. In real life, we rarely see the source of our troubles, and this certainly happens here. Good stuff and I would buy a book of her further adventures, should they someday materialize.

Inspector Baynes, Surrey’s finest, is not used so much and I’ve always thought that a real pity. He has so much potential as a character—annoying, intelligent, confident and secretive with a sharp eye to the prize behind the short-term goal. Ian Edginton struck gold in The Case of the Previous Tenant with his intelligence, wit and positive talent for obfuscation, Baynes would be well advised to ask Mr. Edginton to write his life’s memoirs, should he ever condescend to retire.  Here we get Baynes at his best even though he feels at his worst from a wracking cold, and he gives Holmes a shocking mystery upon his own doorstep: the previous tenant at Baker Street had been a respectable scholar, now incarcerated as a murderous madman.  What happened to him? The good news is, Holmes, Watson, and Baynes discover the answer to that. The even better news? They survive their enlightenment to tell the tale. Look for the presence of Mycroft in this story—both real and imagined!

Cavan Scott gave us Nor Hell a Fury, and with it a long overdue view on Irene Adler. Entire books have been written about her, for better or for worse. Cavan Scott reminds us that a story with Ms. Adler in it isn’t nearly as important as how the world reacts around her. She is without apology or question herself, and that honesty has created many situations around her.  Her treatment of Watson halfway through the story is chilling, but not nearly as much as Ms. Adler’s introspection as she waits for her future alone.

Langdale Pike is an amazing character for all we never really “see” him in the Canon. Andrew Lane gives us another chance in The Case of the Haphazard Marksman. This is full of little treats—his advice to the common, awkward and guilt-ridden fool to “go and sin in peace” is worth the loss of coffee on the keyboard. Langdale Pike is sharply intelligent, and so rarely wrong that his confidence is strong enough to choke an ox. With Holmes as a foil in the same room it is a wonder there is enough air for anyone to breathe. But Pike observes Holmes in the pursuit of a bizarre crime—murder by bullet in broad daylight with utterly no motive attached to it.  Pike is an utter rascal and a pure delight for just those reasons. Working with Holmes in a case means both men will have to keep an eye on themselves and each other. You would look long and hard to find someone more devoted to the sensual than Mr. Pike, and his observations only make us wonder if the ending of the story really is the ending. I truly doubt it.

The Presbury Papers by Jonathan Barnes is all about the good Professor.  Oh, Professor Presbury. Where to start with him?   This story moves at a pace few can match. The quiet portions are merely where we pause to draw a breath. With each page I grew more tense. There are forces at work that we never see but are completely aware of them. Presbury’s life turns full circle here, where a man of science and investigation becomes the focal point of another investigation—and not for the pure reasons of intellect either. The story ends on a very icy three words known to everyone who reads the Canon. This is not the end, but a beginning.

I recently wrote “Porky” Shinwell Johnson into a story for MX because I thought he’d make a perfect voice for the people under-served and overlooked by society. William Meikle did one better, launching A Flash in the Pan with Shinwell speaking to us one-on-one with a case that he was brought into, literally, by being in the right place at the right time. Johnson delights in doing in his job that also helps Mr. Holmes, and he likes it even better when he gets to remind the rich and powerful their influence doesn’t stand up to a cosh at close range. At the same time, Johnson is quite human: he is compassionate to a man fallen into drink and knows to ask questions without losing focus—or his wallet to an esteemed pickpocket. Meikle’s Johnson is equal parts “smart cookie” and “cool cat” and he proves exactly why Holmes thought him worth salvaging. His moral code is fixed; crime to survive he tolerates, but those who commit crimes and ruin lives just because they can see no mercy at all. This is one of my favorites in a book filled with competition!

Holmes and snakes.  Never a good combination, and this is no exception. Jeffrey Thomas’ The Vanishing Snake gives us another chapter for Helen Stoner—one of my favorites in all the Canon for half a hundred reasons. This story is unlike the others in the collection, and difficult to review without spoiling it for the readers. I’ll say that a lot of research was done here, and a considerate eye to philosophy and spiritual science that is not that of the Western Culture. This tale lifts up the bugbears eternal: snakes that drink milk, train to whistles, and climb down bellropes need some explanation, for heaven’s sake! Thomas plants the seeds for Holmes’ journey to Tibet here, and it is just a wee bit satisfying to know (just for once) what Holmes will be up to before he does. This story is unlike any others in the book; appreciate it for what it is.

Mycroft Holmes is sprinkled throughout this book (often with chilling effect) but he finally gets his own spotlight in Simon Bucher-Jones’ A Family Resemblance.  Mycroft opens up his paper with pure bureaucracy—he cites and name-drops with thoughtless grace, adding to the validity of his words. Ever the bureaucrat. Mycroft directs his tale to a specific foe—and one to whom I have developed a distinct loathing even though he was mentioned but never once seen in Canon. Let us but say that Mycroft is a devastating opponent. Do not tickle this sleeping lion. Mycroft is the entire reason why we have the proverb, “Stupidity should be painful.” It is difficult to review this in depth without going into spoilers.

Page Turners from Kara Dennison gives us Billy the Page—a quick, clever and thanks-be- suspicious boy who is trusted to take a highly sensitive document in delivery for Mr. Holmes. Easier said than done, and watching Billy defeat all of these malcontents is better than a roadshow. At the end of it, we’re laughing along with Watson at the stupidities of people who think themselves so important. And yes, Holmes, do double that boy’s salary!

Nick Kyme’s Peeler is one of the chilliest short stories I’ve read in a long time, and for multiple reasons. The sensation of being caught within a problem beyond one’s ability to solve is never nice, and Nick creates a darkly claustrophobic strangulation inside a twisting underground world of London. It is inhabited by those who pay a terrible price for selfishness, and the horror of trusted men who “go bad” lingers afterwards. Lestrade is the Associate in this one and we can be grateful for his limited imagination; this crime could have driven a fanciful man insane. The closest he shows to having speculation is in the closing, poignant lines: “London grinds on in their absence, though it has no shortage of monsters still and horrors to spare, I am sure.” This was the perfect ending to the series, but I was still very sorry to come to the end.





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