“You See, But You Do Not Observe.”
There’s a remarkable fallacy that seems to be subverting the mystery genre these days. Maybe it’s just because I myself read so little of it anymore. Perhaps it’s a trait I’ve overlooked until recently. Yet I feel it needs to be brought to light. It’s simply this: when an author presents the reader with a mystery, it doesn’t seem right to call said story a mystery if they’re going to withhold facts from their audience. Part of the fun, at least so I always believed, was trying to solve the riddle yourself. If the author withholds evidence or facts from the reader, that treat is stolen and you’re left simply going along for the ride. This can be fun if the story is written well enough, but doesn’t the real pleasure live in finding out if one is right?
Case in point: Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes. The book is an anthology of various cohorts of the great detective venturing out to flex their own deductive muscles either alongside or in the absence of Holmes himself. Many of these characters aren’t particularly notable, even when they were featured in the original canon. Even with my own fondness of the serialized detective stories, I couldn’t recall half of these characters. Characters such as Lucy Hebron, Lord Holdhurst, Jim Smith (who would ever remember that name?) and Langdale Pike are just a few of those featured within these pages. Better known returns are those of Toby the Hound, Lord Baskerville, and Mrs. Hudson. Each has their own diligence to serve. Whether it’s an entertaining effort is for the reader to decide.
Most of the stories were fun, if not predictable. Others, sadly, were abysmally boring and fail to do the genre of Sherlockian lore any justice. No pun intended.
“The Game Is Afoot!”
All in all, the book features fourteen short stories. Some are only a few pages, but the meatier ones average at about thirty. Each story will take you everywhere, from near the beginning of Holmes’ career all the way to beyond his believed death, where it is uncertain if he returns as a ghost or is in fact alive and working in secret. The reader will also visit everywhere in between that timeline as well, so fret not if these sound extreme.
While some of the characters that I had either forgotten or thought little about originally were fun to revisit in these stories, I was disappointed at the portrayal of Holmes in almost every one of them. Sherlock Holmes’ deductive reasoning is treated more akin to a magic trick than it is a learning opportunity for the reader, who learns vicariously through the character of Doctor John Watson. Granted, Watson isn’t always present in these stories. Quite a few are written in the good doctor’s absence as others join the great detective in his adventures. At least two tales are still told in the old tradition: through Watson’s eyes, but are ultimately disappointing in the poor characterization of both the doctor and the detective.
For example, in Sam Stone’s story The Case of the Blue Diamond Watson is called to investigate a case in which a young woman’s parents and betrothed fall ill upon receiving a blue diamond as a gift from a deceased uncle. Upon arrival, Watson is not only disappointed but enraged to find that Holmes was actually the one to call for him, not for his detective skills but for his medical prowess. These feelings are not only unworthy of the doctor, but simply untrue to his character.
“I can’t make bricks without clay!”
Later, in The Curious Case of Vanished Youth by Mark A. Latham, Watson actually commits murder when his wife’s life is threatened. She isn’t in the room being threatened, mind you. It’s simply a threat presented to keep Watson and his then companion, the aforementioned Langdon Pike, off of the case they’re investigating. To the best of my own personal knowledge, the only person ever killed with intent by Holmes and Watson (and not wholly in self defense) was Tonga in The Sign of Four. (This of course doesn’t include the purposeful killing of Moriarty by Holmes.) That Watson would kill so flippantly here then is somewhat absurd, and further justifies my belief that many writers that tackle Sherlockian lore today don’t understand the characters of whom they write about.
There are also tropes repeated to the point of being abhorrently and unapologetically plagiarized from previous Doyle stories. For example, Dan Watters’ story The Dockland Murders introduces a death that is portrayed as a murder but turns out to be accidental and the fault of a poisonous spider. The original canon saw a similar conclusion in The Adventure of Silver Blaze where a horse was actually guilty of trampling a man to death. Originally it was suspected that the man was the victim of bludgeoning, but naturally Holmes deduced otherwise. In the case of The Dockland Murders it is not Holmes himself that solves the mystery, but instead Wiggins, the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars.
Not to be left behind in his own world, Holmes helps wrap the case in the end with the assistance of the ever clueless Lestrade. Yet in the end it is Wiggins who gets the praise, mostly from Holmes, about a job well done.
“It Is Founded Upon The Observation of Trifles!”
This new perspective might sound exciting, but really added nothing other than a shift in narrative style to a story that never would have fit into the original canon. In fact, many of these stories lead us to believe various aspects of Holmes’ character that simply were never true.
To illustrate: in the final story The Second Mask, Lucy Hebron’s home is broken into. At least, we are made to believe as much. Because Lucy is the adopted black daughter of a white lord living in the now mid twentieth century, it’s not hard to believe that her neighbors take offense to her having the nicest home in Norbury. Perforating Lucy’s own terror and frustration with her neighbors abject racism, Lucy wonders whether or not she, or any of Holmes’ other cases, ever crossed his mind after the fact, especially those that revolved around the fates of innocents like herself.
As she wonders this, Holmes in fact does make a secret appearance. Now much aged and literally unable to walk without assistance, he inspects the grounds of her home and determines outloud that Lucy’s home was not broken into at all. She was robbed from the inside, meaning a well to do neighbor is likely the culprit. Yet Lucy overhears all of this without ever speaking to Holmes herself. It leaves her wondering if she was simply seeing his ghost as she reasoned out the solution on her own, or if Holmes, believed dead by England at large, is in fact still working in secret.
It was a very strange affair that left me frustrated as a reader because it alluded to the possibility that Holmes held her and many others dear to his heart and looked out for them long after their business had concluded with one another. As endearing as such a notion may be, I can confidently ascertain that Holmes would do no such thing ever in his life. Holmes was the mental equivalent to an adrenaline junkie. He sought after nothing more than the next challenge, and would have never in all his years become anything even remotely resembling a father figure to anyone, ever.
“There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin.”
Despite all the bad things that I have to say about this anthology, I will admit there were a few stories that I enjoyed. James Lovegrove returns with what was probably the most off the wall story in the collection: a case narrated by Toby the hound. This story is simple, to the point, and offers the delightful perspective of a dog that just wants to do his duty to his humans as best he can, while reveling at the idea that no matter how observant Sherlock Holmes is, he’ll never be half as good as a dog’s nose when it comes to seeking out the source.
Nik Vincent writes The Case of the Scented Lady in which Mrs. Hudson attempts to solve her own mystery as she cleans the quarters of Watson and Holmes one dreary afternoon. The story played a bit too much on themes that felt unfitting, but the idea was certainly cute and I appreciated imagining Mrs. Hudson as Angela Lansbury for a few moments at least.
My point is this: hardcore fans of Sherlock Holmes will probably be frustrated with this anthology. Yet the more light hearted reader may find these stories delightful. The problem is that this series features such obscure characters that it’s hard to imagine how this book could be for one set of fans over another because you need to know the characters to care about them, but if you care, their poor representation will likely upset you. It’s a strange balance to be sure, leaving me uncertain about to whom I might recommend this book. Regardless, by unabashed love for the detective left me rather saddened that this anthology didn’t offer more in its stories. Perhaps future installments, or its predecessor, will offer more.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Full Disclosure: this review was written based on a copy of the book supplied by the publisher: Titan Books.
Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes features stories from James Lovegrove, Sam Stone, Jonathan Green, Andrew Lane, Michelle Ruda, Nik Vincent, Stuart Douglass and more.