THE NEW ADVENTURES OF
Original Stories by Eminent
Edited by Martin Harry Greenburg
And Carol-Lynn Ro ssel Waugh
Carrol & Graf. 345 pp. $18.95
WHAT READER who has ever dreamed of an urgent ride in a hansom cab down London's foggy gaslit streets, circa 1889, with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as his companions, has not wished that Conan Doyle had written more than the four novels and five story collections that stand as the Holmes canon? Of course countless writers have concocted Holmesian tales, most of which fall far short of the mark. However, when Carroll & Graf announced their plans to publish The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, there was a detectable quickening of the pulse.
After all, this collection of 15 stories billed itself as "the centennial edition authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate," which meant that it "had been commissioned and compiled with the approval and consent of Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur's daughter and his surviving heir." If any volume were to once again unlock the door to Baker Street, surely this was it. One's fingers almost tremble as the first page is turned and the opening tale, "The Infernal Machine" by John Lutz, begins.
Unfortunately the anthology does not satisfy the anticipation it creates. Editors Martin Harry Greenberg and Carol-Lynn Ro ssel Waugh have not, in all cases, applied high enough standards to their selections.
The better stories are serious pastiches that seek to emulate the style, atmosphere, and rich sense of adventure of the original tales. On the opening page of Lutz's story, we quickly find ourselves once again in the familiar, welcome surroundings of the Baker Street lodgings. Holmes, violin in hand, astounds Watson with a classic reconstruction of the good doctor's thoughts, and there is even one of those delightful references to an unrecorded case, the adventure of "the twice-licked stamp." Lutz's story lacks pace at times, and his solution is somewhat contrived, but he knows that his main task is to evoke that wellspring of affection that is locked in the heart of every Holmes fan.
Several other stories tap that source as well. In Stuart Kaminsky's "The Final Toast," Holmes must affect his most challenging disguise, an impersonation of himself. Edward D. Hoch journeys back to the snake-shocked town of Stoke Moran for a respectable sequel in "The Return of the Speckled Band." Gary Alan Ruse's "The Phantom Chamber" and Barry Jones' "The Shadows on the Lawn" are both solid, well-crafted tales. But while Dorothy B. Hughes' "Sherlock Holmes and the Muffin" affords us an unusual, but convincingly tenderhearted Holmes, he has also, unaccountably, misplaced his ability for deduction. In addition, Hughes has coerced poor Watson into uttering some ludicrously out-of-character women's lib sentiments. Happily, Lillian de la Torre's "The Adventure of the Persistent Marksman" gives us a vibrant Holmes at the top of his investigative prowess coupled with a case well worthy of his skills.
OCCASIONALLY an author can break new ground on legendary turf. In Stephen King's "The Doctor's Case," Watson solves a baffling locked room mystery before, and in the presence of, Holmes and Inspector Lestrade. In one thrilling sequence Watson, literally struck breathless by a moment of pure perception, suddenly sees the truth, and Holmes sees that he sees it. Lestrade asks:
" 'What the devil's the matter with Watson?'
" 'I believe,' said Holmes in a calm, measured voice, 'that Watson has solved the case. Have you Watson?'
"I nodded my head. . . . I knew who; I knew how.
" 'Is it this way with you, Holmes?' I asked, 'when you . . . see?'
" 'Yes,' he said."
Alas, there is also a disturbing number of stories that evince little or no regard for their source. Oddly most of these seek to expand on "A Scandal in Bohemia," the classic adventure where Holmes meets Irene Adler, who outsmarts the great detective and is forever known as "the woman." A more perfect mystery short story has never been written, yet in Michael Harrison's new version Watson confesses that the original was a pack of lies and now lets us in on the "real" truth, which proves to be genuine three-pipe pablum.
Joyce Harrington's "The Adventure of the Gowanus Abduction" postulates that Holmes and Irene had a (ho hum!) affair, and her heroine, Diana, is actually their descendant, who coincidentally becomes a detective who just happens to become friends with a medical-school dropout named Watson. It's enough to make one reach for the syringe.
Then there is the rank and graceless playlet, "Dr. and Mrs. Watson at Home: A Comedy in One Unnatural Act." Apparently Loren D. Estleman finds humor in depicting Watson as a stupid, insensitive boor and Mary as a bad-tempered nag. His shocking denouement -- Mary is having an affair with Professor Moriarty! Yet one must be wary of Estleman's wit. Blunt instruments can be lethal.
It is, I suppose, unfair to demand that today's mystery writer harbor Conan Doyle in his soul, but surely he must carry Holmes in his heart.
Laurence Coven is a frequent reviewer of mystery and science fiction and a Sherlockian of long standing.