The reviewer, whose latest book is "The Great Detectives," is publisher of "The Armchair Detective" and founder of The Mysterious Press .
George Bernard Shaw once described Sherlock Holmes as one of the three most famous men who ever lived, along with Jesus Christ and Houdini, Well, he's still a hot name in the publishing world -- not bad for someone who recently celebrated his 125th birthday.
The first Holmes adventure was published in 1887 and, within five years, his name and profile and deerstalker hat were known throughout the civilized world. Yet, as popular and beloved as he was then, book sales of that era are dwarfed by the success of the great detective's adventures nowadays.
A grand total of nine books about Holmes were published under the Arthur Conan Doyle byline during all the years from "A Study in Scarlet" (1887) to "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes" (1927). Each of the past five years has witnessed more new Holmes books than that, beginning with Nicholas Meyer's "The SevenPer-Cent Solution" in 1974.
To be precise, the authorship of this major work was attributed to John H. Watson (the genuine author of the nine original Sherlock Holmes books), with Meyer credited as the editor of the newly discovered manuscript. Since that extraordinary literary disinterment, the world has had cause to marvel at the number of freshly unearthed manuscripts by the evidently tireless and prolific Dr. w/atson.
In "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution." Watson's abilities are at their zenith. While he may have been delirious, or having cruel fun at his roommate's expense (since the case described is palpably ridiculous), his writing style was never sharper or more exhiliarating.
At the opposite end of the excitement spectrum, however, is the recent exercise titled "The Case of the Philosopher's Ring" unearthed by Randall Collins.
Even at his worst, Watson was never dull. One must then, it seems, question the authenticity of this book. No matter how irresponsibly sensational he was (as in, for example, "The Holmes-Dracula File," Ace paperback, $1.95, edited by Fred Saberhagen), Watson could be depended upon to keep his tale vital and swiftly paced. This, emphatically, is not the case with the manuscript allegedly unearthed by Collins, even though the premise had potential merit: Bertrand Russell sends a telegram to Holmes, "A great mind is being stolen. Please come at once." The object in question belongs to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the villain behind the scheme is a no less towering figure than diabolist Aleister Crowley.
Several occultly contrived murders occur and are matter-of-factly accepted as the result of other-worldly interventions by Holmes himself. Someone so hard to convince of phantom hounds would never have believed so readily in the supernatural abilities of Crowley -- or of anyone else.
If this is not enough to throw suspicion on the credibility of the manuscript, the clincher is the frequent use of such un-Watsonian language as "copulate" and "buggerer." It is unlikely that the inflexibly proper doctor ever spoke such words, much less committed them to paper.
The man often credited with writing the Sherlock Holmes exploits, Arthur Conan Doyle, is the key figure in "The Demon Device." A first-person narrative, it recounts the vital espionage mission he undertook during World War I. What makes this account of more than passing interest is the fact that, in 1930, Doyle died. Generally, after such an incident in a person's chronology, it becomes exceedingly difficult to write fift-person narratives. Doyle overcomes this obstacle by communicating his engaging memoir to Robert Saffron.
Beyond the information concerning Doyle's seek-and-destroy foray against a German secret weapon designed to lay England in ruins, there is provided reassurance that Doyle, is, in his own words, "Up Here." Surely, for his role in preventing the annihilation of Great Britain, and his contribution to bringing Sherlock Holmes' adventures to a wide readership, he deserves the comforts of heaven.
Many fans of Sherlock Holmers believe there ought to be some restraint by those scholars and editors who indefatigably unearth more and more of Watson's journals.
Ideally, no book should be judged by its predecessors; the torrent of Watson's memoirs discovered in recent years does not dim the prospect of a truly splendid narrative coming to light. At the same time, editors should not reject, out of hand, all manuscripts in which Sherlock Holmes does not appear.