Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holmes for the Holidays

by
Scott D. Parker

There is one overriding reason why Sherlock Holmes is so popular 125 years after his first adventure: we love the atmosphere of Victorian England. The sounds of the clip-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones, the sights of men and women dressed in late-Victorian finery, the smell of a crackling fire in a tavern, they all go together and form something special and unique. It’s a nostalgia for a time we’ve never known but, through the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, we can know and come to love.

With all the emotion surrounding Sherlock Holmes and his redoubtable friend, Dr. John Watson, it is no surprise that, of all the adventures, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is constantly mentioned as a perennial favorite. It is, however, it’s the only Christmas story in the canon.

The editors of Holmes for the Holidays have rectified this omission. Martin Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh, with the blessing of Dame Jean Conan Doyle, commissioned fourteen authors to try their hand at a Holmes and Watson story set during the last week of December. The results are all quite good.

And how could they not be? Just look at some of the names:
• Anne Perry (famous for her historical novels)
• Loren D. Estleman
• Jon L. Breen
• Bill Crider
• Carole Nelson Douglas (author of the Irene Adler series)
• Edward D. Hoch

As you read these stories, take special note of the historical details about Christmas itself. Remember, these are stories written by authors in the 1990s about the late 1800s. Moreover, the 1880s are forty years after Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” the book credited with changing Christmas to what we know it today. Different authors focus on different aspects of the Christmas season, all with two men who are proper English gentlemen. It’s a telling trait, yet a fun one.

Speaking of Dickens, two of the stories concern themselves with Scrooge, Marley, Tim Cratchit, and a certain set of three ghosts. Loren Estleman’s “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” concerns itself with Lord Chislehurst, a Member of Parliament, and in need of Holmes’ assistance. You see, three ghosts have visited the Lord, just like his father’s old boss. You see where this is going and the true identity of the Lord? Yeah, he’s the grown-up Tiny Tim who now owns Scrooge old counting firm. In this story, Dickens is real and is the man who “chronicled” the story of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. Watson’s read the book but Holmes knows nothing about it. In fact, Lord Chislehurst/Tim Cratchit doesn’t like the book. Holmes and Watson take the case and, in their usual √©lan, solve the case…although the ending is not entirely predictable.

Bill Crider tackles the same material but puts a different spin on the story. In “The Adventure of the Christmas Ghosts,” three ghosts are besetting the grandnephew of Ebenezer Scrooge, Franklin, as well. Holmes suspects foul play—natch—and lands his suspicion on Timothy Cratchit (i.e., Tiny Tim) who still works in the counting house. Crider highlights Holmes’ often eccentric qualities, including his acting ability, in this fun little story also with an ending that’s not entirely expected.

With any anthology, you don’t often have to read the stories in order. I’d recommend reading these two Scrooge stories back-to-back. You’ll get a sense of how the two authors both treat the same subject, how they see the original Christmas Carol tale, and how the perpetrators in each story use similar methods. Estleman’s story references other Holmes stories that’ll be sure to garner a smile as you read it. Crider’s piece is funnier in that, with a wink and a nod, he inserts famous lines that’ll pull a chuckle from somewhere inside you.
“Let us not get our stories out of order,” said Holmes. “Marley first. He died. Is that not correct?”
“Yes [Franklin said]. Marley was dead. There can be no doubt about that.”
Just as I have my Christmas music CDs that I store for eleven months out of the year, I have some favorite anthologies of Christmas stories that share space in the same box, including the Annotated Christmas Carol, Christmas Ghosts, Crime for Christmas, and Christmas Stars. Of all them, Holmes for the Holidays is the one I return to year and year. It evokes certain images, particular Christmastime feelings, that I, as Texan don’t always get to experience. Why not find a copy and make a new tradition of reading these stories in December. You won’t be disappointed.


On a personal note, I'd like to thank all the readers of this blog for all the time they've given to us in 2012. It's always fun to continue a conversation--or start one--about crime fiction (or whatever else is on our minds) and we all look forward to a fun, entertaining, and thought-provoking 2013.

1 comment:

Charles R. Rutledge said...

This is one of my favorite Christmas story collections as well. Some great stories in there.

Merry Christmas!