Book Simple: The New-New Sherlock Holmes
a blogumn by Amy Brown
Perhaps it is a tad ironic that during this season of all-encompassing love and blind commercialism Hollywood turns to “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen,” but Sherlock Holmes is too exciting a property to leave undeveloped for long.
Indeed, since the events of the final Doyle case in 1914, the famous resident of 221B Baker Street has been portrayed by such greats as John Barrymore in 1922, John Gielgud in ‘50s BBC radio dramas and even John Cleese in a 1973 television episode, as well as the more readily identifiable Holmes played by Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.
My father still refers to Brett as “the new Holmes,” the Rathbone version of his childhood still being his definitive detective. I don’t know how pleased Dad will be with the choice of wry Robert Downey, Jr. to play our hero come Christmas day.
Downey certainly has the experience to portray Holmes’s cocaine addiction; it is another question whether the actor can manage to summon the combination of cold brilliance and dramatic arrogance that makes Doyle’s most famous character so enjoyable to read.
Our shared love of this great detective led me to my Dad’s Christmas gift this year, a collection of “new” Sherlock Holmes stories by contemporary writers. Only because I am reasonably sure that he won’t read this column before Christmas day (stop reading now, Dad!) will I share this grouping with my Fierce and Nerdy compatriots.
The first book is The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon, which describes an aged Holmes drawn away from his beekeeping into the life of a mute, displaced Jewish orphan during the Second World War. The theft of the boy’s pet parrot leads to murder and a murky intrigue between national intelligence services. “A delicate, inexorable lattice of inferences began to assemble themselves, like a crystal, in the old man’s mind, shivering, catching the light in glints and surmises,” Holmes finds. “It was the deepest pleasure life could afford, this deductive crystallization, this paroxysm of guesswork, and one that he had lived without for a terribly long time.”
Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, also involves a retired Holmes attending his bees. Here the detective, returning home from a puzzling journey to Japan, confronts the mystery of human emotion in “the paternal stirrings he harbor[s]” for his housekeeper’s son, feelings he cannot logically confront or explain. Here again an older Holmes confronts a darker age: “These children with missing fathers, Holmes had mused…This age of lonely, searching souls.”
The final book in my collection takes place in an earlier time and promises to be happier. Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary describes a summons received by Holmes and Watson to solve a mystery at the Royal Palace of Holyrood that may threaten the Queen of England. I haven’t read this one yet, and Dad may find it sneaks away on Christmas morning. He probably won’t need the world’s greatest detective to figure out what happened to it.
Wishing you all some wonderful holiday reading!