This collection of Sherlock-Holmes-stories puts the focus on some secondary characters from the Holmes-universe. Several of them like Irene Adler or Inspector Lestrade are quite well-known, others we meet only once.
Titan Books is doing an amazing job churning out new pastiches every year, as well as publishing older “classics”. This might not be their best anthology even though some well-known writers are included.
It starts with The River of Silence by Lyndsay Faye. Lyndsay Faye is the author of Dust And Shadow, a novel in which Sherlock Holmes solves the case of the Jack The Ripper Killings. Here she writes about inspector Stanley Hopkins and his first meeting with the great detective. This is a solid character piece, but the mystery is unmemorable.
Pure Swank by James Lovegrove deals with Barker a character casual readers are unlikely to remember. He only appears once in “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”, where he is described as "Holmes’ hated rival on the Surrey shore". Here we are allowed to see the case from Barker’s point of view who is jealous of Holmes and at the end even manages to outsmart the great detective, at least if we can believe him.
Heavy Game Of the Pacific Northwest by Tim Pratt puts the focus on the dastardly adventurer Colonel Sebastian Moran, Professor Moriarty’s right hand man. It is huge fun as Moran gets involved in a hunt for Bigfoot in the American Pacific Northwest, but it is let down by its brevity which keeps the story from realizing its full potential.
A Dormitory Haunting by Jaine Fenn brings back Violet Hunter from “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”. This was I think my least favourite story. A pupil at a girl’s school is scared by a ghost-like appearance, but there is nothing original about the solution.
The Case Of the Previous Tenant by Ian Edginton provides an opportunity to catch up with Inspector Baynes of the Surrey Constabulary who played an important role in “The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge”. It also tells us who occupied the rooms in Baker Street 221B before Holmes and Watson moved in.
Nor Hell a Fury by Cavan Scott deals with “the woman”, Irene Adler. I wasn’t particularly taken with Scott’s novel-length Holmes-pastiche The Patchwork Devil, and he didn’t win me over this time either. Irene comes over as petty and smug in this story, and the mystery is so-so.
We move on to The Case Of The Haphazard Marksman by Andrew Lane who is also the author of the Young Sherlock Holmes adventures. This story is an oddity in the sense that Langdale Pike, around whom events revolve here, never appears in the canon, and is only mentioned once in “The Adventure Of The Three Gables”. He is a gossip columnist and as such not a particularly well respected member of society. A sniper is taking out people in London, in public places in broad daylight. It all seems random, but there is of course a pattern to it and Pike assists Holmes to apprehend the criminal.
The Presbury Papers by Jonathan Barnes reacquaints us with Professor Presbury who played such a memorable role in The Adventure Of The Creeping Man. The professor is still struggling with his libido, however the consequences this time prove to be truly tragic. This would have been great however it ends far too soon and would have been more interesting in longer form as a novella perhaps.
A Flash In The Pan by William Meikle is another middling tale of a not so interesting character. Shinwell “Porky” Johnson a former criminal who appeared in The Adventure Of The Illustrious Client.
The Vanishing Snake sees the return of Miss Helen Stoner, who was almost murdered by her evil stepfather. This is perhaps my favourite story providing an entirely new perspective on the events in “The Speckled Band”. It is also slightly supernatural which might not be to everyone’s taste, but I thought it was fabulous.
A Family Resemblance by Simon Bucher-Jones is narrated by Mycroft Holmes, who is a bit of a cold fish, and perhaps should leave the story-telling to Dr. Watson, since this a dry and only mildly interesting piece.
Page Turners by Kara Dennison is told by Billy The Page, an urchin who only appeared late in the canon, in The Valley Of Fear, but since then has become a bit of a cult figure.
Finally Nick Kyme gives us a story about the long-suffering Inspector Lestrade who is treated with some dignity here. This is a serial-killer tale and it is the goriest in this collection almost verging on horror.It is creepy and atmospheric, but fails to do anything particularly oroginal with the format.
At the end of the book there is the announcement of a sequel: Further Associates Of Sherlock Holmes coming out in 2017, which will include stories told from the point of view of, among others, Mrs. Hudson, Toby the dog, Inspector Gregson and Professor Moriarty. I would be lying, if I said, I can’t wait, but I’m going to buy it anyway, because apparently I have to own everything about Sherlock Holmes.