Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dr. Thorndyke: In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes

[The following is modified from the Editor’s Forewords to forthcoming volumes in "The Complete Dr. Thorndyke”]

When Sherlock Holmes began his practice as a “Consulting Detective”, his ideas of scientific criminal investigations caused the London police to look upon him as a mere “theorist”. He was perceived as an amateur to be tolerated, often with amusement – until, that is, his assistance was required. Then they were more than willing to come knocking upon his door, asking for whatever help that they could receive. And usually this help took the form of brilliant solutions to bizarre and otherwise insoluble problems.

Holmes espoused methods and ideas that were considered ludicrous in the late 1800’s. For instance, his frustration knew no bounds when a crime scene was disturbed. Holmes realized that so much could be determined from the physical evidence – footprints, fibers, and spatters. The police were happy to trod into and disturb the evidence as if they were herds of field beasts, with the equivalent level of intelligence.

However, Holmes’s methods, and the science behind catching criminals, eventually won out and became so important that it’s hard to now imagine the world without them. Many of the exact same techniques and methods that he advocated are now standard practice. From being an amateur with unusual ideas, Holmes is now recognized around the world as The Great Detective. In 2002, Holmes received a posthumous Honorary Fellowship from the British Royal Society of Chemistry, based on the fact that he was beyond his time in using chemistry and chemical sciences as a means of solving crimes.

And before that, in 1985, Scotland Yard introduced HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System), an elaborate computer system designed to process the masses of information collected and evaluated during a criminal investigation, in order to ensure that no vital clues are overlooked. This system, providing total compatibility and consistency between all the police forces of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the Royal Military Police, has since been upgraded by the improved HOLMES 2 – and like the first version, there is absolutely no doubt as to who is being honored and memorialized for his work in dragging criminology out of the dark ages.

Many famous Great Detectives followed in Holmes’s footsteps – Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot and Solar Pons – each with their own methods and techniques, but before they began their careers, and while Holmes was still in practice in Baker Street, another London consultant – Dr. John Thorndyke – opened his doors, using the scientific methods developed and perfected by Holmes and taking them to a whole new level of brilliance.

Meet Dr. Thorndyke

Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke was born on July 4th, 1870. We don’t know about where he was raised, or if he has any family. At no point will we be introduced to a more brilliant brother who sometimes is the British Government. He was educated at the medical school of St. Margaret’s Hospital in London, and while there, he met fellow student Christopher Jervis. They became friends but, after completing school in 1895, they lost touch with one another. Over the next six years, Thorndyke remained at St. Margaret’s, taking on various jobs, hanging “about the chemical and physical laboratories, the museum and post mortem room,” and learning what he could. He obtained his M.D. and his Doctor of Sciences, and then was called to the bar in 1896.

He’d prepared himself with the hope of obtaining a position as a coroner, but he learned of the unexpected retirement of one of St. Margaret’s lecturers in medical jurisprudence. He applied for the position and, rather to his own surprise, it was awarded to him. (He would continue to maintain his association with the hospital, going on to become the Medical Registrar, Pathologist, Curator of the Museum, and then Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, all while maintaining his own private consulting practice.

It was when Thorndyke was named lecturer that he obtained his chambers at 5A King’s Bench Walk, in the Inner Temple, that amazing and historic area between Fleet Street and the River. Founded over eight-hundred years ago by the Knights Templar, it is one of the four Inns of Court, (along with the Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, and Gray’s Inn.) The buildings along King’s Bench Walk, and particularly No.’s 4, 5, and 6, have a great deal of historical significance – and not just because Dr. John Thorndyke practiced at 5A for a number of years.

Thorndyke was quite fortunate to obtain a suite of rooms on multiple floors at this location, which leads to speculation about his influence and resources – a question which has no answer. In any case, it was there that he opened his practice and began to wait for clients and cases. He also made the acquaintance of elderly Nathaniel Polton, that man-of-all-work with the crinkly smile who ran the household, as well as Thorndyke’s upstairs laboratory.

Like Sherlock Holmes during those early years in the 1870’s when he had rooms in Montague Street next to the British Museum and spent his vast amounts of free time learning his craft, Thorndyke also found a way to make the empty hours more useful. He had the unique idea of imagining increasingly complex crimes – often a murder or series of them, for instance – and then, when he had planned every single aspect of the crime, he would turn around and work out the solution from the other side. While doing this, he made extensive notes of each of these theoretical exercises, and retained them for their later usefulness when encountering real-life crimes.

His first legal case was Regina v Gummer in 1897. Sadly, no further information about this affair is ever revealed to us, but we may be certain that Thorndyke used his considerable skills to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, adding to his reputation as he did so.

In the meantime, Jervis had a more unfortunate story. As his time at school ended, his funds ran out rather unexpectedly, and after paying his various fees, he was left with earning his living as a medical assistant, or sometimes serving as a locum tenens, moving from one low-paying and temporary job to another, with no prospects of improvement.

Jervis is unemployed on the morning of March 22nd, 1901 when he encounters Thorndyke a few doors up from 5A King’s Bench Walk. The two friends are happy to see one another, and before long, Jervis is involved in an investigation that will change his life in several ways, as recounted in The Red Thumb Mark.

But it should not be assumed that every Thorndyke adventure is narrated by Jervis in a typical Watsonian manner. In fact, the very next book, The Eye of Osiris, is instead told from the perspective of one of Thorndyke’s students, Dr. Paul Berkeley. It is one of several that provide a look at Thorndyke – and Jervis – from a different perspective. But Jervis returns as narrator in the third novel, The Mystery of 31 New Inn, and we see Thorndyke through his eyes for a good many of both the novels and short stories.

5A King's Bench Walk in the late 1890's,
when Thorndyke would have moved in . . . .

Here a word might be mentioned about the Chronology of the Thorndyke stories. For some this is an irrelevant factor, but for others – like me – understanding the correct chronological placement of the stories is very important. Like the volumes that make up the Sherlock Holmes Canon, the Thorndyke stories aren’t published in chronological order – A case set in 1907 (such as “Percival Bland’s Proxy”) might be collected before one that occurs in 1908, (“The Missing Mortgagee”), or it might not. For instance, The Red Thumb Mark (1907) is set in March and April 1901. (This chronological placement, by the way, is determined by noticing that a specific date is given three times in the book – in the British fashion of day before month – 9.3.01 – or March 9th, 1901. The dates for the events of the rest of the book can be carefully worked out from this fixed point.)

The next book, The Eye of Osiris (1911) is primarily set in the summer of 1904 (with Chapter 1, something of a prologue, taking place in late 1902.) Then, the next book to follow, The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912), jumps back to the spring of 1902, about a year after the events of The Red Thumb Mark, and before The Eye of Osiris. And one of the short stories, “The Man With the Nailed Shoes” occurs in September and October 1901, between the first two books. Clearly, there is a great deal of material for the chronologicist in the Thorndyke Chronicles.

As Jervis becomes a part of Thorndyke’s world, following their reacquaintance in March 1901, he meets others in Thorndyke’s circle, including policemen such as Superintendent Miller and Inspector Badger, lawyers like Robert Anstey, Marchmont, and Brodribb, and other physicians like Dr. Paul Berkeley and Dr. Humphrey Jardine. He also has more opportunity to learn from his friend as he begins his own studies in order to become a similar specialist in the medico-legal practice – although he’ll never be another Thorndyke.

Through Jervis’s eyes – as well as others along the way – we build up our knowledge of Dr. Thorndyke. In appearance, he is tall and athletic, just under six feet in height, slender, and weighing around one-hundred-and-eighty pounds. He is exceptionally handsome – and has been called the handsomest detective in literature. He has no vices, except – perhaps – that he enjoys a Trichinopoly cigar upon occasion when he is feeling especially triumphant – although there is one time when the criminal’s knowledge of this fact leads to a clever attempt at Thorndyke’s murder . . . .

Dr. Thorndyke and Sherlock Holmes

There are several instances where Thorndyke displays a marked resemblance to Sherlock Holmes – and not just in his scientific approach to crime. The two men sometimes say similar things – such as when Holmes says "It is quite a pretty little problem." (in “A Scandal in Bohemia”) or “. . . there are some pretty little problems among them””(in “The Musgrave Ritual”). Thorndyke mimics this in Felo de Se? (“There, Jervis,” said he, “is quite a pretty little problem for you to excogitate”) or “Ah, there is a very pretty little problem for you to consider” (in The Eye of Osiris).

And who can forget the many instances when Holmes refers to data:

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – “A Scandal in Bohemia”

“I had,” said he, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data.” – “The Speckled Band”

“No data yet,” he answered. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”A Study in Scarlet

“The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.”The Valley of Fear

“Still, it is an error to argue in front of your data.” – “Wisteria Lodge”

And what about Thorndyke’s version?

“. . . believe me, it is a capital error to decide beforehand what data are to be sought for." – from The Mystery of 31 New Inn. There are others.

Then there is Holmes’s quote from “The Man With the Twisted Lip”:

“You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,” said he. “It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.”

Here’s the Thorndyke equivalent:

“It has just been borne in upon me, Jervis,” said he, “that you are the most companionable fellow in the world. You have the heaven-sent gift of silence.”

And then there is the time, in “The Anthropologist at Large”, that a client – expecting a Holmes-like performance as based on “The Blue Carbuncle” – presents Thorndyke with an object for examination:

“I understand,” said he, “that by examining a hat it is possible to deduce from it, not only the bodily characteristics of the wearer, but also his mental and moral qualities, his state of health, his pecuniary position, his past history, and even his domestic relations and the peculiarities of his place of abode. Am I right in this supposition?”

The ghost of a smile flitted across Thorndyke’s face as he laid the hat upon the remains of the newspaper. “We must not expect too much,” he observed. “Hats, as you know, have a way of changing owners . . . .”

Another area of intersection between Holmes and Thorndyke is the assembly of information. Recall Holmes’s “ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings” as mentioned in “The Engineer’s Thumb”. We find, also in “The Anthropologist at Large”, that Thorndyke does the same thing:

[H]is method of dealing with [the morning newspaper] was characteristic. The paper was laid on the table after breakfast, together with a blue pencil and a pair of office shears. A preliminary glance through the sheets enabled him to mark with the pencil those paragraphs that were to be read, and these were presently cut out and looked through, after which they were either thrown away or set aside to be pasted in an indexed book.

No doubt and examination of Thorndyke’s lodgings at 5A King’s Bench Walk would reveal – in addition to a series of indexed commonplace books filled with clippings – a number of other items and aspects that would remind one of 221b Baker Street.

Like many locations where the detective’s residence is almost a character in and of itself – Sherlock Holmes’s London address at 221 Baker Street, and the New York homes of Ellery Queen on West 87th Street and Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone on West 35th Street – Thorndyke’s rooms at 5A King’s Bench Walk are a living and vibrant place – from the entry way, where a heavy door known as “The Oak” leads visitors into a most comfortable wood-paneled sitting room, located on the (British) first floor, one flight up from the ground floor. On the next floor up, Polton has his laboratory and workshop, containing everything that is needed (or what might be manufactured) in order to solve the case.

On the next floor, underneath the attic, are bedrooms belonging to Thorndyke, Jervis, and Polton. Even after Jervis has married – and now you know that he does get married! – he continues to reside a good deal of the time in King’s Bench Walk. As he explains in When Rogues Fall Out (1932, with the U.S. title of Dr. Thorndyke’s Discovery):

Here, perhaps, since my records of Thorndyke’s practice have contained so little reference to my own personal affairs, I should say a few words concerning my domestic habits. As the circumstances of our practice often made it desirable for me to stay late at our chambers, I had retained there the bedroom that I had occupied before my marriage; and, as these circumstances could not always be foreseen, I had arranged with my wife the simple rule that the house closed at eleven o’clock. If I was unable to get home by that time, it was to be understood that I was staying at the Temple. It may sound like a rather undomestic arrangement, but it worked quite smoothly, and it was not without its advantages. For the brief absence gave to my homecomings a certain festive quality, and helped to keep alive the romantic element in my married life. It is possible for the most devoted husbands and wives to see too much of one another.

5A King's Bench Walk circa 1900 . . . .

Thorndyke’s Other Appearances

Through the years, Thorndyke’s reputation continues to grow, as presented through a number of adventures. Surprisingly, in light of the tens of thousands of Post-Canonical Sherlock Holmes that have come to light over the years, as discovered by latter-day Literary Agents taking over Watson’s first Literary Agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stopped literary-agenting, there have been almost no additional Thorndyke cases brought to the public’s attention. The few exceptions to this statement are Goodbye, Dr. Thorndyke (1972) by Norman Donaldson, and Dr. Thorndyke’s Dilemma (1974) by John H. Dirckx. Both narratives deal with Thorndyke and Jervis in their latter years, and each is written by an expert in the field of Thorndyke scholarship.

Donaldson also wrote what might be the final scholarly word on the subject, In Search of Dr. Thorndyke (1971). In fact, he had intended his pastiche, Goodbye, Dr. Thorndyke, to be published as the conclusion to this book, but it ended up appearing separately.

To my knowledge, “The Great Fathomer”, as Thorndyke is sometimes known, has rarely appeared in other locations. He is mentioned in the Solar Pons tale “The Adventure of the Proper Comma” by August Derleth, which finds Dr. Parker returning “from Thorndyke & Polton with an analysis of the capsules Mrs. Buxton had carried with her . . . .”

In my own book of authorized Solar Pons stories, The Papers of Solar Pons (2017), Thorndyke makes two appearances. “The Adventure of the Additional Heirs” has Pons and Parker visiting King’s Bench Walk:

At 5A, we learned that our friend Thorndyke, the medical juris-practitioner, was out on some investigation or other, but Pons handed the papers, sans photograph, into the care of Polton, his crinkly-faced laboratory technician, with a detailed explanation of what he wished to learn. The man nodded and smiled, and without any extraneous chit-chat, shut the door, freeing us to return to Fleet Street. We paused at the edge of the walk to look at the photograph, still in Pons’s hand.

Later Thorndyke sends Pons a detailed report that helps toward the solution of the problem. And in “The Affair of the Distasteful Society”, set in July 1921, Pons and Parker attend the first meeting of a group gathered to honor Sherlock Holmes, where the following conversation occurs:

“I see that you invited Thorndyke, and that little Belgian over on Farraway Street,” said Rath.

“And Sexton Blake as well,” replied Sir Amory.

“Sexton Blake is a fictional character, Sir Amory,” said Pons with a smile.

In my story, “The Adventure of the Two Sisters”, to be included in an upcoming Solar Pons anthology, Dr. Parker writes:

Pons was not the only detective who offered his services to the London populace, although he might have been the most well-known. We were friends with several others, including the former Belgian policeman who lived in Farraway Street, and another rather mysterious fellow in nearby Bottle Street. And of course, Pons went way back with Thorndyke, whose chambers were across town. It wasn’t unusual for Pons and the others to regularly confer on investigations, or simply to sit down and share a few drinks and professional anecdotes.

Thorndyke doesn’t just appear in some of my Solar Pons adventures. He’s also been referenced off-stage in a couple of Sherlock Holmes adventures that I’ve pulled from Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box – and it’s more than likely that others will follow. In “The “London Wheel”, contained in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part IV: 2016 Annual (2016), Holmes, looking through some documents, states:

“I believe,” said Holmes, “that I have enough amateur legal training that I can get a sense of the implications of the clauses in question in both of these documents.” He pulled the folded pages from his pocket. “I thought about sending a message to my protégé Thorndyke in King's Bench Walk for his opinion, as he could have been here very quickly, should he be at home at all and not out on his own business. However, I don’t believe that will be necessary.

Perhaps it is a point of interest that Thorndyke is referred to Holmes’s protégé. Possibly more information will be forthcoming, such as that which is hinted in my forthcoming story, “The Coombs Contrivance”. Set in 1889, when Thorndyke was nineteen years old, Holmes and Watson are discussing a precocious Baker Street Irregular:

[Holmes] pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do you trust Levi’s judgment, Watson?”

I considered. “For an eight-year-old, he’s remarkable perceptive – as much as any of the other Irregulars who have assisted you. The Wiggins family, or the Peakes, or Thorndyke, before he went away to university.”

So was Thorndyke, perhaps, a gifted Irregular who learned from The Master, and then went on to create his own successful practice, taking what he learned to a next very successful level? Possibly. As Robert Downey, Jr. succinctly stated when playing Holmes in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes: “Food for thought!”

Thorndyke is also mentioned in Bob Byrne’s Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Parson’s Son” (The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part III: 1896-1929), wherein Holmes, examining a piece of evidence, cries:

“Ha! I believe we have discredited the coat entirely. Though I wish I could get Thorndyke to examine it. Would that we were back in London.”

And it isn’t just Thorndyke who has appeared elsewhere. His lawyer friend Marchmont has assisted Holmes and Watson in a small way a couple of my own forthcoming adventures, Sherlock Holmes and The Eye of Heka and “The Coombs Contrivance”.

Although I have encouraged these Thorndyke cameos in my own stories or in Holmes and Pons books that I edit, his appearances elsewhere are much more fleeting. In the 2015 BBC radio series The Rivals, Inspector Lestrade, Holmes’s most frequent associate at Scotland Yard, is placed into the events of the Thorndyke short story “The Moabite Cipher”. And Thorndyke has only had a handful of other media appearances. In 1964, the BBC produced seven episodes (now lost) of Thorndyke, starring Peter Copley. The episodes were:

• “The Case of Oscar Brodski’
• “The Old Lag”
• “A Case of Premeditation”
• “The Mysterious Visitor”
• “The Case of Phyllis Annesley” – Adapted from “Phyllis Annesley’s Peril”
• “Percival Bland’s Brother” – Adapted from “Percival Bland’s Proxy”
• “The Puzzle Lock”

From 1971 to 1973, Thames TV aired The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, and two stories were adapted: “A Message from the Deep Sea” starring John Neville (who had also played Holmes in 1965’s A Study in Terror), and “The Moabite Cipher” starring Barrie Ingram. Except for a 1963 BBC Radio adaption of Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight, and a few on-air readings by a single performer, there have been no other Thorndyke adaptations – which is a terrible shame, as the stories certainly lend themselves to visual and audible interpretations. Perhaps a new generation will discover Thorndyke, Jervis, and the rest, and they will find popularity once again, as they did more than a century ago.

Copley, Neville, and Ingram as Thorndyke . . . .

A Few (Hundred) Words About R. Austin Freeman (Thorndyke’s Chronicler)

Richard Austin Freeman was born on April 11, 1862 in the Soho district of London. He was the son of a skilled tailor and the youngest of five children. As he grew, it was expected that he would become a tailor as well, but instead he had an interest in natural history and medicine, and so he obtained employment in a pharmacist’s shop. While there, he qualified as an apothecary and could have gone on to manage the shop, but instead he began to study medicine at Middlesex Hospital.

Austin Freeman qualified as a physician in 1887, and in that same year he married. Faced with the twin facts of his new marital responsibilities and his very limited resources as a young doctor, he made the unusual decision to join the Colonial Service, spending the next seven years in Africa as an Assistant Colonial Surgeon. This continued until the early 1890’s, when he contracted Blackwater Fever, an illness that eventually forced him to leave the service and return permanently to England.

For several years, he served as a locum tenens for various physicians, a bleak time in his life as he moved from job to job, his income low, and his health never quite recovered. (These experiences were reflected in the narratives of Doctors Jervis and Berkeley.) However, he supplemented his meager income and exercised his creativity during these years by beginning to write. His early publications included Travels and Live in Ashanti and Jaman (1898), recounting some of his African sojourns.

In 1900, Freeman obtained work as an assistant to Dr. John James Pitcairn (1860-1936) at Holloway Prison. Although he wasn’t there for very long, the association between the two men was enough to turn Freeman’s attention toward writing mysteries. Over the next few years, they co-wrote several under the pseudonym Clifford Ashdown, including The Adventures of Romney Pringle (1902), The Further Adventures of Romney Pringle (1903), From a Surgeon’s Diary (1904-1905), and The Queen’s Treasure (written around 1905-1906, and published posthumously in 1975.) The specifics of the two men’s writing arrangement are unknown to the present day, although much research was carried out by Freeman scholar Percival Mason (“P.M.”) Stone, who was actually able to confirm Pitcairn’s involvement and influence. Following this association, which apparently helped to train Freeman to be a better writer and to focus on a recurring character, his luck changed, and he was able, within just a few years, to abandon the practice of medicine, which had never been successful, and become a professional author.

In approximately 1904, Freeman began developing a mystery novella based on a short job that he had held at the Western Ophthalmic Hospital. This effort, “31 New Inn”, was published in 1905, and it is the true first Dr. Thorndyke story. In it, we meet narrator Dr. Christopher Jervis, working as a locum tenens, moving from practice to practice in the same bleak existence that Freeman had experienced. Jervis becomes involved with a patient that may or may not be in danger. Unsure what to do, he recalls his former classmate, the brilliant Dr. John Thorndyke.

Curiously, this novella, (included in Volume II of the newly reissued collection The Complete Dr. Thorndyke), has numerous references to the events of the first Thorndyke novel, The Red Thumb Mark, which would not be published until 1907. Much of Freeman’s life is obscure and unknown, including his writing processes and milestones, but clearly, with so much already clearly defined in this novella about Thorndyke and Jervis, he had firmly established not only fixed aspects of their histories, but the plot of The Red Thumb Mark as well, several years before the book’s publication. One wonders why he chose to first publish “31 New Inn”, since it occurs chronologically a whole year after the events of The Red Thumb Mark.

Interestingly – at least to a chronologicist such as myself – the original novella of “31 New Inn” is specifically set in April 1900, as indicated internally. However, when it was later revised to become the third Thorndyke novel, The Mystery of 31 New Inn, (1912, and included in Volume I of The Complete Dr. Thorndyke), the narrative’s date is changed to 1902 – which fits, since the events definitely occur after The Red Thumb Mark, which takes place in March and April 1901.

Like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, who seemed to have sprung fully formed from his creator’s brow, Thorndyke and his world are well-defined and immediately real. Although certain characters are added to the circle through the years, the basic layout – with Thorndyke, Jervis, and Polton (the man-of-all-work crinkly-smiled assistant) are always at 5A, ready to spring into action when Jervis – or one of the other varied narrators who show up throughout the series – arrive with a curious problem.

Freeman had found his voice with the Thorndyke books and short stories, and he was able to make use of his lifelong interest in medicine and natural science – often conducting extensive experiments to work out exactly how the solutions in his stories could be discovered. And in Thorndyke’s early days, Freeman was able to turn the literary form inside out with the creation of the “Inverted Mystery Story”, wherein the criminal is known from the beginning – the motive is explained, the planning and execution of the crime are observed, and the miscreant is left to believe that all is well and that he’ll never be caught. And then, in the second part of the story, Thorndyke enters to inexorably follow the trail that is completely invisible to everyone else, scraping away, layer by layer and point by point, until the truth is inevitably revealed.

As Freeman explained:

Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell. But I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter.

This format went on to be used by a great many authors through the years. For example several of the Lord Peter Wimsey narratives come close to being this type of story, and television’s Columbo used this type of story-telling as its basis.

While these volumes are an attempt to reintroduce the modern reader to Thorndyke, and are a celebration of him and his world, it must be discussed at some point that Freeman held views that are unacceptable. Unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his last decades championing spiritualism but never allowed it to creep into the Sherlock Holmes stories, Freeman sometimes did let his own prejudices make their way into the Thorndyke tales. In his book Social Decay and Regeneration (1921), he expressed his rather nationalistic view that England had become an “homogenized, restless, unionized working class”. Worse, he inexcusably and detestably supported the eugenics movement, arguing that people with “undesirable” traits should not be allowed to reproduce by means such as “segregation, marriage restriction, and sterilization”. He referred to immigrants as “Sub-Man”, and argued that society needed to be protected from "degenerates of the destructive type.

Some have attempted to excuse his beliefs as being a product of his times. For instance, it has been written that he had a distrust of Jews because of the competition that his father, a tailor, had faced when Freeman was a boy. Later, he served in the Colonial Service in Africa during some of the worst years in terms of treatment of natives by the British, and as an older man, he existed in the Great Britain between the two wars when great upheavals disrupted much of what he had known and expected.

Sadly, there are occasional racial stereotypes and references in the Thorndyke books. As I explain in the Editor’s Caveat of the upcoming reissued editions, some of these stereotypes had to be unfortunately maintained within the story in order to accurately reflect the plot and the characters of those times. However, there are some words or phrases that were used in the original stories – vile racial epithets that have no business being repeated or perpetuated anywhere – that I have cheerfully and happily removed. (There weren’t many of them, but any are too many.)

These books are intended to bring Dr. Thorndyke and his adventures to a new generation – and not to be an untouchable and sacred literary artifact, with every nasty stain preserved and archived for the historical record. As I warn in the Editor's Caveat, if readers find that they want to experience the original versions as they were first written, with those hateful words included, then they would be advised to go and seek out the original books, because you won’t find that filth in these new editions. These versions celebrate Dr. Thorndyke and Dr. Jervis – who do not use the awful stereotyped language, I’m glad to say! – and as such, I felt no need whatsoever to include and perpetuate the objectionable and offensive material

From Thorndyke’s creation until 1914, Freeman wrote four novels and two volumes of short stories. Then, with the commencement of the First World War, he entered military service. In February 1915, at the age of fifty-two, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Due to his health, which had never entirely recovered from his time in Africa, he spent the duration of the war involved with various aspects of the ambulance corps, having been promoted very early to the rank of Captain. He wrote nothing about Thorndyke during this period, but he did publish one book concerning the adventures of scoundrel, The Exploits of Danby Croker (1916).

R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

Following the war, he resumed his previous life, writing approximately one Thorndyke novel per year, as well as three more volumes of Thorndyke short stories and a number of other unrelated items, until his death on September 28th, 1943 – likely related to Parkinson’s Disease, which had plagued him in later years.

Upon learning the news, Chicago Tribune columnist Vincent Starrett wrote:

When all the bright young things have performed their appointed task of flatting the complexes of neurotic semi-literates, and have gone their way to oblivion, the best of the Thorndyke stories will live on – minor classics on the shelf that holds the good books the world.

Raymond Chandler wrote in his famous essay, which initially appeared in a couple of magazines and then was published in the book of the same name, The Simple Art of Murder (1950):

This man Austin Freeman is a wonderful performer. He has no equal in his genre, and he is also a much better writer than you might think, if you were superficially inclined, because in spite of the immense leisure of his writing, he accomplishes an even suspense which is quite unexpected . . . There is even a gaslight charm about his Victorian love affairs, and those wonderful walks across London.

In the introduction to Great Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror (1928), Dorothy L. Sayers, Chronicler of Lord Peter Wimsey, stated:

Thorndyke will cheerfully show you all the facts. You will be none the wiser . . . .

Discovering Dr. Thorndyke

I first encountered Dr. Thorndyke in a rather backwards way – in passing only – and it took several decades to correct that mistake. In approximately 1980, my dad gave me Otto Penzler’s The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crime Fighters, and Other Good Guys (1977). This wonderful oversized book has biographies of twenty-five well-known heroes, along with lists of the original books featuring each one.

My dad bought it for me because it had a chapter about Sherlock Holmes. There were a few others in there that I recognized or had already read about– Ellery Queen and Perry Mason – and soon I would become fanatical about a few more – Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot. Over the next few years I would also find the chapters on James Bond and Lew Archer indispensable, and later than that I would come to appreciate the entries about Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Philo Vance, and Lord Peter Wimsey. But there were a few that, to this day, I’ve never bothered to read – such as Modesty Blaise or Mr. Moto – and a few others that I skimmed but otherwise ignored. And one of these was the biography of Dr. Thorndyke.

That fact was easily understandable, as throughout the entire time that I was growing up in eastern Tennessee – and in the years since as well – I’ve never come across a Thorndyke book for sale here in the wild, either in a new bookstore or in a used one. If I’d found one, I might have bought and read it, liked it, and then sought out others. Instead, I was bound to discover Thorndyke by way of Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve been collecting traditional Sherlock Holmes pastiches since the same time that I discovered the Sherlockian Canon, when I was ten years old in 1975. Since that time, I’ve collected, read, and chronologicized literally thousands of them. It never gets old, and I’m constantly looking for more – and that means checking Amazon to see what new releases are on the horizon.

In 2012, someone – and I’ve never determined who – began releasing a variety of Holmes stories for Kindle under the author name Dr. John H. Watson. This wasn’t too unusual – there have been a number of pastiches that officially list Watson as the author, rather than putting the editor of Watson’s papers first. Of course, after determining that these latest entries weren’t going to be available as real books, I bought the e-versions, and then printed them on real paper. (I cannot stand e-books – ephemeral electronic blips that you lease instead of buy. I’ll only buy those titles if they aren’t going to be released as legitimate books – and in this case, it’s a good thing that I did, as each of these Kindle stories that I found and paid for were soon withdrawn.)

As I read these latest “Holmes” stories, I noticed that each had a definite style that captured the writing from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. (No matter how modern pasticheurs try to achieve that, they never quite pull it off.) But in one of the first two or three titles that I read, I caught a couple of mistakes. In one story, Holmes and Watson leave 221 Baker Street and are immediately in the area around The Temple and Fleet Street, rather than in Marylebone, where Baker Street is properly located. On another occasion, the story’s policeman – who had been identified up to that point as Inspector Lestrade – was inexplicably named Superintendent Miller – but only in one instance. And in another place in one of the stories, Holmes’s address was stated to be 5A King’s Bench Walk.

It was then that some vague memory triggered in my head, and I realized why these stories had captured the style of the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras: It was because they had actually been written then. I recalled – from reading Otto Penzler’s book of biographies so long ago - that 5A King’s Bench Walk belonged to Dr. Thorndyke, and not Sherlock Holmes. Someone was taking the original Thorndyke stories, which I had never before read, and simply changing names: Dr. Thorndyke, Dr. Jervis, and Superintendent Miller became Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade, respectively.

Between 2012 and 2014, the anonymous author continued to load new Kindle editions on Amazon of Thorndyke-converted to-Holmes stories, and I continued to buy them. As soon as I had one, I would read it, and then try to figure out the original Thorndyke story from which it was taken. When I’d done so, I’d post a review, identifying what this editor was doing, from where he or she was taking the story, and urging that person, whoever it was, give credit to R. Austin Freeman instead of listing the author as Dr. John H. Watson.

Soon after each of my reviews would appear, the story would be withdrawn. I don’t know if it was because the editor had made enough money from the initial sales, or if my reviews alerted him or her that they’re game had been uncovered. In any case, I still have the printed copies of each of these converted stories – possibly the only copies that are still in existence.

For the record, over that two year period, this editor produced sixteen converted tales – four of the original Thorndyke novels, and twelve short stories. One of the original short stories, “The Mandarin’s Pearl”, was converted twice, with slight variations – initially published as “The Dragon Pearl”, withdrawn, and later revised and reloaded as “The Oriental Pearl”:

• “The Bloodied Thumbprint” – Originally the first Thorndyke novel, The Red Thumb Mark;
• “The Eye of Ra” – Originally the second Thorndyke novel, The Eye of Osiris;
• “The Cat’s Eye Mystery” – Originally the sixth Thorndyke novel, The Cat’s Eye;
• “The Julius Dalton Mystery” – Originally the ninth Thorndyke novel, The D’Arblay Mystery;
• “The Green Jacket Mystery” – Originally “The Green Check Jacket”;
• “Mr. Crofton’s Disappearance” – Originally “The Mysterious Visitor”;
• “The Coded Lock” – Originally “The Puzzle Lock”;
• “The Duplicated Letter” – Originally “The Stalking Horse”;
• “The Bullion Robbery” – Originally “The Stolen Ingots”;
• “The Talking Corpse” – Originally “The Contents of a Mare’s Nest”;
• “The Blue Diamond Mystery” – Originally “The Fisher of Men”;
• “The Dragon Pearl” – Originally “The Mandarin’s Pearl”. (This story was also reworked and published again as a Holmes story under the title “The Oriental Pearl”);
• “The Ingenious Murder” – Originally “The Aluminium Dagger”;
• “The Bloodhound Superstition” – Originally “The Singing Bone”; and
• “The Magic Box” – Originally “The Magic Casket”.

For quite a while, I was happy to have these as Holmes stories, and I even considered converting the rest of the Thorndyke adventures into additions to the extended Holmes Canon as well. (For at that time I cared nothing for Dr. Thorndyke.) It was partly with these converted stories in mind that I was motivated to go ahead and publish Sherlock Holmes in Montague Street (2014, 2016), which did the same thing to the Martin Hewitt stories, making them early adventures of Holmes before he met Watson and moved to Baker Street. I had long before decided to my own satisfaction that Martin Hewitt was a young Sherlock Holmes, with his identity changed through the preparations of a different literary agent than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The taking of old public-domain stories featuring other detectives as the main protagonists and switching them so that Holmes is the main character has also been done by Alan Lance Andersen for his collection The Affairs of Sherlock Holmes (2015, 2016), wherein various non-series Sax Rohmer stories from nearly a hundred years ago were reworked as Holmes tales. Other non-Holmes authors have sometimes done the same thing. Raymond Chandler revised some of his early short stories so that the original characters’ names were changed to Philip Marlowe. Ross MacDonald – (Kenneth Millar) also rewrote his old stories as well, making them into Lew Archer cases instead. More recently, the British ITV series Marple has taken non-Miss Marple Agatha Christie stories and converted them into episodes featuring that character.

So I had no problems with this type of change – and still don’t. In fact, in my foreword to Sherlock Holmes of Montague Street, I wrote that I would rather have these converted Thorndyke stories as Holmes adventures, because I would rather read about Holmes than Thorndyke. But gradually my mind began to change, and I became more curious about Thorndyke, as presented in the proper fashion.

In 2013, I was able to go to London, as well as other places in England and Scotland, on the first (of three so far) Holmes Pilgrimages. For the most part, if a location wasn’t related to Holmes, I didn’t visit it. There were a few exceptions – I did intentionally visit Solar Pons’s house at 7B Praed Street, Hercule Poirot’s two residences, James Bond’s flat in Chelsea – but everything else was pretty much pure Holmes.

One day, during my Holmesian rambles, I was making my way east down Fleet Street, and I visited both of the possible locations of “Pope’s Court” (as featured in “The Red-Headed League”), Poppin’s Court and Mitre Court. (The latter is also one of the locations where Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie had quarters in some of the Fu Manchu books.) I decided that Mitre Court was certainly the original of “Pope’s Court”, and I passed through it to find myself unexpectedly in The Temple.

That’s the amazing thing about a Holmes Pilgrimage to London – one travels to a site and finds two more very close by. I had planned to visit The Temple, but hadn’t realized that I was so close. And now here I was – and more interesting was the fact that I was walking along King’s Bench Walk, which runs downhill from the Miter Court passage. I recalled that Thorndyke had lived at 5A, so I made my way there – but without too much awe on that day, because I hadn’t actually read any Thorndyke adventures yet – just some converted Holmes stories.

5A King's Bench Walk . . . .

After I returned home, the thought of that side-trip to Thorndyke’s front door stuck in my mind, and I sought out and read the first novel in the series, The Red Thumb Mark. I was so impressed that I kept going, and discovered a wonderful series of books and stories – fascinating characters and mysteries, and very evocative descriptions of both the London and the countryside of those times.

When I returned on my second Holmes Pilgrimage in 2015, I took the second Thorndyke book with me, re-reading it while there – while also reading Holmes stories too, of course! This one, The Eye of Osiris, has a great deal of London atmosphere, and I spent part of one late afternoon tracking down locations in this book – or what’s now left of them – in the area around Fetter Lane to the north of Thorndyke’s home in The Temple. It was truly unforgettable.

And of course I made an intentional stop at Kings Bench Walk on that 2015 trip, and again on Holmes Pilgrimage No. 3 in 2016. By that point I was a Thorndyke fan, and I took the trouble to write to the current occupiers of 5A before I traveled to see if I could step inside and perhaps spend a moment in Thorndyke’s old quarters. Sadly, they did not respond – either because it was simply beneath them to do so, or possibly because they get too many people like me who want to make a literary pilgrimage to what is a functioning and thriving business location.

While making photographs at Thorndyke’s old doorway, I had several chances to go inside when someone else would enter or leave – My ever-present deerstalker and I could have simply been bold enough to slip in and then talk my way onward. It worked at other places on my Holmes Pilgrimages – the laboratory at Barts where Holmes and Watson met, for instance, and the site of the (former?) Diogenes Club at No. 78 Pall Mall, where they acted just oddly enough to make me think that the club is still there. But for some reason, barging into Thorndyke’s old chambers without proper permission didn’t feel quite right. But if or when I make Holmes Pilgrimage No. 4, I’ll definitely make an even greater effort to see the doctor’s former rooms.

Me and my deerstalker at 5A King’s Bench Walk - September 2016

The Return of Dr. Thorndyke . . . .

For too long, Dr. Thorndyke has been forgotten - a famed detective of yesteryear occasionally referenced in passing, or known to just a few devoted fans. It's time that he be acknowledged by a new generation. I hope that the reissued editions of the Dr. Thorndyke books will provide pleasure to those discovering him for the first time, and to others who have known him for a long time. As always, I approach these matters from a Sherlockian perspective, so of course these stories, to me, are a peripheral extension of Holmes’s world, and as such they are just more tiny threads woven into the ongoing Great Holmes Tapestry. However, they are wonderful on their own, and however one reads them, I wish great joy upon the journey.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Pastiches: The Third Leg of the Sherlockian Stool . . . or . . . Do you want to write a pastiche?

[A version of this essay originally appeared as the Editor's Foreword to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories - 2018 Annual: Parts IX (1875-1895) and Part X (1896-1916)]

In his introduction to The Return of Solar Pons (1958), Edgar W. Smith, a legendary member of the Baker Street Irregulars, wrote:

There is no Sherlockian worthy of his salt who has not, at least once in his life, taken Dr. Watson’s pen in hand and given himself to the production of a veritable Adventure. I wrote my own first pastiche at the age of fourteen, about a stolen gem that turned up, by some unaccountable coincidence, in the innards of a fish which Sherlock Holmes was serving to his client in the privacy of his rooms; and I wrote my second when I was fifty-odd, about the definitive and never-more-to-be-seen-in-this-world disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore in a matrix of newly-poured cement.

I would love to read these stories, composed by this man whose undisputed efforts to promote the admiration of Sherlock Holmes helped to make the world’s first consulting detective one of the most recognized figures on the planet. The essay “How I First Met Edgar W. Smith” by one of the BSI founders, William S. Hall, (Baker Street Journal, June 1961) describes an occasion in which Hall, Christopher Morley, and Smith met in 1939 for lunch. After a period of Morley asking several tough Canonical questions, “[Smith] was accordingly dubbed, with the help of an additional whiskey-and-soda, a full-fledged member on the spot. Since then I have always rated the meeting of Morley and Smith second in importance only to that of Stanley and Livingstone. The rest we all know about. Almost from that moment on, Edgar was The Baker Street Irregulars, and that includes most of the Scion Societies as well.”

Edgar W. Smith, BSI - Friend of Sherlockian Pastiche

Smith was a tireless advocate for the promotion of Holmes, and there are many who know much more about him than I who can provide specific examples. It’s commonly known that he was the founder and first editor of The Baker Street Journal, and is still listed to this day on the title page of every issue. He edited the first “definitive” text of The Canon – if such a thing can actually exist – and that version, which was published in three amazingly handsome volumes in the early 1950’s, is still being used today by the Easton Press for their beautiful leather-bound editions . . . .

He had an open-door policy that allowed and encouraged others to join the fun and take the spotlight, such as when he had noted Sherlockian Vincent Starrett write the foreword to the aforementioned definitive Canon, instead of doing so himself. He had the same inclusive spirit in his cornerstone volume Profiles by Gaslight (1944), an amazing collection of Holmesian essays. (An amusing side-note to those who have one of the 1944 hardcover editions: The page numbers proceed normally and sequentially, until one is in the middle of the Vincent Starrett contribution, “The Singular Adventures of Martha Hudson”. This essay runs from pages 202 through 229. As one proceeds, the pages are numbered as one would expect: 218, 219, 220. And then, where one would expect to simply see page 221, Smith adds a letter, making it 221B. Then the next page is 222. That single added letter shows just how dedicated Mr. Smith was to The World of Holmes.)

Smith’s contributions are innumerable. Yet, with all of his support of both The Canon and Sherlockian Scholarship, the first two legs of the Sherlockian stool, he didn’t forget the third:


Worth one's salt . . . .

As shown above, when referring to pastiche, Smith says “There is no Sherlockian worthy of his salt who has not, at least once in his life, taken Dr. Watson’s pen in hand and given himself to the production of a veritable Adventure.” Strong words from the man who shaped the Baker Street Irregulars. And words that should not be forgotten or swept aside or spoke of, save with a gibe and a sneer, in the pursuit of the scholarly side of things.

In that same paragraph from that same introduction, Smith goes on to write:

The point that does concern me – and it is a point that all of us who are tempted to emulation should bear in mind – is that the writing of a pastiche is compulsive and inevitable: it is, the psychologists would say, a wholesome manifestation of the urge that is in us all to return again to the times and places we have loved and lost; an evidence, specifically, of our happily unrepressed desire to make ourselves at one with the Master of Baker Street and all his works – and to do this not only receptively, but creatively as well.

There are several important points to be noted from these short passages. To be “worth one’s salt” is historically assumed to refer to the practice of paying Roman soldiers enough wages that they could buy salt, necessary for both survival itself, as well as for tasks such as curing meat. If a soldier wasn’t effective in his job, he wasn’t paid. The phrase has come down through the years to mean more generally that one must be competent, adept, and efficient to be “worth one’s salt”. And it was no accident that Smith began his essay in this way, for he understood, from those early days, the importance of pastiche. “No Sherlockian worth his salt . . . .”

Additionally, he wrote that this should be done receptively. For if one is truly a Sherlockian worth his [or her] salt, then there should be no resistance against this need to create or read additional adventures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It must be true. Edgar W. Smith said so.

Beyond The Canon

I’ve long maintained, and written extensively in a number of forums, that pastiches are of supreme importance, and should receive as much credit as possible for promoting the continued and growing popularity of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlockian scholarship and speculation is a cornerstone of some people’s interest in The Canon, but it can be somewhat esoteric. It is pastiche that fires the imagination of many people and serves to initially lure them to The Canon. Sherlock Holmes is recognized around the world, but how many people who admire and adore him read The Canon as their absolute first contact with him? Many, certainly, but not all. Instead, a sizeable number also encounter Holmes first in the form of pastiches – stories, films, radio and television episodes, comic books, fan-fiction – and then seek to know more about that actual Holmes Bible made up of the original (and pitifully few) sixty adventures, as brought to us by that first – but not the only! – Literary Agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It’s always been my contention that The Canon is the wire core of a rope, but pastiches are the strands that overlay it, giving it both thickness and strength. In other places, I’ve called the entire body of work, both Canon and pastiche, The Great Holmes Tapestry. It all weaves together to present a picture of the complete lives of Holmes and Watson, immensely complex and interesting. And that tapestry, with its threads of pastiches woven in and around and through the main supporting Canonical fibers, has been forming since nearly the same time when the first Canonical stories were being published.

In those earliest of days, the tendency was to parody Holmes, rather than produce true pastiches – possibly because Holmes was still new, and many of the tropes that have since become set in stone were then still in flux. However, some of those early parodies came very close indeed to having the feel of the real thing, and only a few changed words would be enough to nudge them into acceptable adventures.

In his introduction to The Memoirs of Solar Pons (1951), Ellery Queen presents an amazing comprehensive list that enumerates the various variations on Holmes from earlier decades, up to that time. (Richard Dannay, son of Frederic Dannay, who was half of the Literary Agent-team representing Ellery Queen, recently told me that his father’s list “is truly a virtuoso, one that can’t be duplicated or imitated.” However, Sherlockian Bill Mason has done so, with his book A Holmes by Any Other Name.) It’s amazing, from this distance of so many years since Queen’s list was constructed, and then from reading Bill's new book, to realize just how widespread Holmes’s influence was, even in those days.

I cannot say what the earliest Holmes parody or pastiche was – there is some debate on that point. It’s clear from some that are on Queen’s list, such as Detective Stories Gone Wrong: The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs by Luke Sharp (1892), The Adventure of the Table Foot by “Zero” (Allan Ramsay, 1894, featuring Thinlock Bones), and the eight “Picklock Holes” stories which first appeared in Punch in 1893 and 1894, that The Master’s influence appeared quite early.

There are numerous other Holmes-influenced stories from those early days, and more are being mined all the time. Many collections over the years have included these very valuable “lost” tales:

The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (1944) – edited by Ellery Queen. (A most important book for any collection, with a publication history of its own that’s as interesting as the contents of the book itself);
Sherlock Holmes in America (1981) – edited by Bill Blackbeard. (A beautiful coffee table book of all sorts of obscure items);
The Game is Afoot (1994) – edited by Marvin Kaye. (An incredible volume, with a great representation of both old and new stories);
As It Might Have Been (1998) – edited by Robert C.S. Adey. (One of the first to be specifically devoted to rare old pastiches and parodies);
I Believe in Sherlock Holmes (2015) – edited by Douglas O. Greene; (Truly a labor of love, with some great obscure ephemera.)
A Bedside Book of Early Sherlockian Parodies and Pastiches (2015) – edited by Charles Press. (Definitely worth examining to find hidden treasures); and
The Missing Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (2016) – edited by Julie McKuras, Timothy Johnson, Ray Riethmeier, and Phillip Bergem. (This is a unique title, which takes on the task of including the stories first mentioned – but not included – in Ellery Queen’s Misadventures. I was honored to be able to bring this volume to Richard Dannay’s attention, as he was previously unaware of it.)

Also, the Herculean efforts of Bill Peschel must be lauded. He has assembled seven (as of this writing) massive (and very handsome) volumes of early Holmes parodies and pastiches – and I hope that he keeps going:

• The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes
• Sherlock Holmes Victorian Parodies and Pastiches: 1888-1899
• Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches: 1900-1904
• Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches: 1905-1909
• Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches: 1910-1914
• Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches: 1915-1919
• Sherlock Holmes Jazz Age Parodies and Pastiches: 1920-1924

Initially, those early stories were created for simple amusement, with countless variations on Holmes and Watson’s names that possibly seemed clever or funny in those long ago days – Purlock Hone and Fetlock Bones, Dr. Poston and Whatsoname – but now seem painfully like a first-grader’s attempt at humor. Gradually, however, stories in the true traditional Canonical style began to appear. Vincent Starrett’s “The Unique Hamlet” from 1920 is often referenced as a good early traditional pastiche. It certainly established that Holmes adventures did not have to be parodies, and that they could be presented to the public without first passing across the desk of the first Literary Agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Solar Pons and Dr. Parker

In the late 1920’s, a new kind of Sherlockian tale arrived, when August Derleth became Dr. Parker’s Literary Agent, arranging for the publication of the first Solar Pons stories. While not actually about Holmes and Watson, these occur within Holmes’s world, and are so precise in reproducing the style and substance of Holmes’s adventures that they very much paved the way for additional stories using the correct format to follow.

Solar Pons: The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street

Edith Meiser

In 1930, Edith Meiser advanced the cause of pastiche significantly. She was convinced that the Holmes adventures would be perfect for radio broadcasts. She worked out a deal with the contentious Conan Doyle brothers, Adrian and Denis, and began to write scripts. Her efforts were rewarded when Holmes was first portrayed on NBC radio on October 20th, 1930, in a script adapted by Meiser from “The Speckled Band”. In that first broadcast, Holmes was played by William Gillette, the legendary stage actor who had defined Holmes for Americans for a generation or more. The show continued after that with Richard Gordon as Holmes, and Meiser kept adapting the original stories throughout the early 1930’s. Then she did a remarkable thing: She began to write pastiches of new cases, in the manner of the originals, and set in the original correct time period – and all of this with the approval of the Conan Doyle family. (At one point, she later sued the Conan Doyle heirs, asserting - correctly - that it was through her efforts that the entire perception of Holmes, by way of elevating Watson’s role in the narrative, had been changed. But that’s another essay for another time.) The first original story, “The Hindoo in the Wicker Basket”, appeared on January 7th, 1932. Sadly, it’s lost, but luckily a few of the pastiche broadcasts from that period still survive, either in their original form, or when they were re-done a few years later starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes.

Meiser deserves immense credit for setting these new stories in the correct time period, and not updating them to the 1930’s. There had been several Holmes films made by that time - first silent pictures, and then with sound, such as The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) and A Study in Scarlet (1933). All of those were produced with contemporary settings as a matter of course – automobiles and modern clothing and all the rest. Sir Arthur would have been proud of Ms. Meiser for keeping things true. After all, he had written in his autobiography Memories and Adventures (1924) about his thoughts on modern aspects shown in the silent Eille Norwood films produced from 1921 to 1923, stating, “My only criticism of the films is that they introduce telephones, motor cars, and other luxuries of which the Victorian Holmes never dreamed.” (If Sir Arthur could see what’s been to damage Holmes on screen in the present day, character assassination that goes far beyond simple modernization or the use of automobiles, he’d roll over in his grave. But perhaps, spiritualist that he was, he’s already seen and observed it. I can hear him spinning now . . . .)

(For more about this idea, see my blog entry "Automobiles in the Sherlock Holmes Films" - http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2018/07/ )

The run of the show under Edith Meiser’s guidance ended in 1936, but it resumed without her in 1939, due to the popularity of the Basil Rathbone film, The Hound of the Baskervilles. By that point, the radio show was being scripted by Leslie Charteris (under the sobriquet Bruce Taylor) and Denis Green. However, these two continued to use the exact same format created by Meiser during her run – something that still extends its influence even to the present day. Thank goodness that Sherlockian Ian Dickerson has found the previously lost scripts by Charteris and Green from 1944 and is republishing them in very handsome volumes.

Traditional pastiches appeared through the years – books and short stories and films and broadcasts – all serving to bring new generations to 221b Baker Street. In 1954, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, containing twelve very traditional adventures, was published. Originally appearing in Life and Collier’s, these stories were presented by agents Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr. The creative process wasn’t always smooth between the two authors, but the adventures themselves are excellent. Here are my hardcover copies, as well as original magazine appearances, with some amazing paintings by Robert Fawcett:

Throughout the following decades, traditional pastiches appeared sporadically, often few and far between, and difficult to find. Radio continued to present original Holmes stories into the 1950’s. The Holmes television show from 1954-1955, starring Ronald Howard, was made up of mostly original stories. The film A Study in Terror and the related book by Ellery Queen (1965) helped to represent Holmes in the 1960’s

Here comes the original caped crusader!” proclaimed the posters – but pickings were slim.

The Golden Age

Then, in 1974, an amazing thing happened. Nicholas Meyer reminded us that Watson’s manuscripts were still out there, waiting to be found. Meyer had discovered some of Watson’s original notes, which were published as The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. A film quickly followed. An amazing Holmes Golden Age began that extends to this very day.

I was fortunate to jump on this Holmes Train around the time that it was leaving the station. I discovered Holmes in 1975, when I was ten years old, with an abridged copy of the Whitman edition of The Adventures. I was only prompted to start reading it after seeing a piece of A Study in Terror on television. (It’s hard to believe that the film was only ten years old then, like I was.) Before I’d even tracked down or read all of The Canon, I began to absorb pastiches as well. Very soon after reading my abridged copy of The Adventures, I received a paperback copy of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. (This was through the Reading Is Fundamental [RIF] Program. I well remember being led into the school gymnasium, where one side was set up with countless long tables covered in books – a sight that thrilled me even then, as I was always a sensible lad. I was allowed to pick two books, and I chose The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, with Holmes on the cover, and another that looked like a boy’s adventure, something called Lord of the Flies. I thought from the description on the back that it might be rather like one of my favorite series, The Hardy Boys. It wasn’t. But I digress.)

I must admit that, even then, with my limited Canonical awareness, (and with apologies to Nicholas Meyer), I didn’t agree with all that was proposed in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. A benign mistreated Professor Moriarty? Hints that The Great Hiatus didn’t actually occur? No, sir. I believed The Canon, wherein the Professor was the Napoleon of crime, and the organizer of half that was evil and of nearly all that was undetected in the great city of London. And I believed that Holmes had truly fought him at Reichenbach, as reported, instead of going off to recover from his cocaine addiction in the guise of Sigerson the violinist while in pursuit of a redheaded woman.

But that whole alternative set-up between the established Canon and this new adventure forced me to start thinking, even then, in a critical Sherlockian manner – though I didn’t realize it at the time. What did I believe? And why? This was reinforced by other seemingly contradictory adventures that I also began to encounter. I discovered William S. Baring-Gould’s amazing biography, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1962), at nearly the same time I started reading about Holmes. Here's my old copy, still serving me well after all these years . . . .

I also read it before I’d even found all of the actual adventures, so many of Baring-Gould’s theories are hard-wired into my brain right along with The Canon – such as certain aspects of Baring-Gould’s chronology, and all about brother Sherrinford, and the first Mrs. Watson named Constance, and a love child (Nero Wolfe) with Irene Adler.

Nero Wolfe, the Son of Sherlock Holmes

(For mor information, read "Re-reading the Nero Wolfe Adventures" -
http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2016/01/re-reading-nero-wolfe-adventures-visit.html )

Holmes versus The Ripper

Baring-Gould related a specific version of Holmes’s defeat of Jack the Ripper. But Holmes also fought a different Ripper to a different conclusion in A Study in Terror. And then it happened again just a few years later in the amazing film and book Murder by Decree (1979) – which, by the way, is another incredible pastiche that helped to bring people to The Canon, and also personally showed to me the Holmes that Watson describes in “The Three Garridebs” as a man with both a great brain and a great heart.

I began to understand that these various accounts of Holmes versus The Ripper didn’t contradict one another – rather, they were simply different threads of a larger story, with each pulled out and tied off so as to present a complete picture of this-or-that particular case (or piece of a case) without causing confusion by referencing other side issues. (I explain it further in "Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper" http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/02/sherlock-holmes-versus-jack-ripper.html )

This became very useful later as I began to discover more and more versions of some of the famous “Untold Cases”, such as The Giant Rat of Sumatra. Some readers might pick one or the other of these as the only “definitive” version of this case, but I believe that, as long as the different narratives are set within the correct time period, and don’t stray into some Alternate Universe or modern or science-fiction or Lovecraftian or supernatural world, then each is true. Thus, there were lots of times – each of them unique – when Holmes and Watson encountered Giant Rats. There were many Hurets that Holmes fought in 1894 – a whole nest of them, a regular Al Qaeda of Boulevard Assassins – instead of just one. There were a number of tobacco millionaires in London during 1895, and Holmes helped them all, while Watson lumped each of them into his notes under the protective pseudonym of “John Vincent Harden”.

Some other classics . . . .

Back in the mid-1970’s, however, before the Golden Age really began to bloom, it was still a bit hard to find good traditional Holmes stories. Nicholas Meyer’s second Holmes discovery, The West End Horror (1976) is just about perfect – I thought so then, and still do. A few years later, I discovered Enter the Lion (1979) by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright, and realized that a view of Holmes’s world didn’t always have to be through Watson’s perspective. This was reinforced when I found John Gardner’s Moriarty books and Carole Nelson Douglas’s histories of Irene Adler.

The 1980’s and 1990’s brought more and more new Holmes stories – although “more and more” is a relative term because, while there were certainly more than there used to be, they were still hard to find and hard to acquire. There were some great anthologies, including The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1985), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1987), and The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories (1997).

Master pasticheurs such as Barrie Roberts and June Thomson brought us multiple volumes of truly high quality narratives. Publishers like Ian Henry and Breese Books provided excellent stories which – with a little digging – were much more easily obtained than before. These books could now conveniently be ordered through chain bookstores and also Otto Penzler’s remarkable Mysterious Bookshop. Then things became even easier with The Rise of the Internet. The world of pastiches changed forever.

More and More Traditional Canonical Pastiches - And Yet . . . Never Enough!

I began to use the internet when I went back to school for a second degree in engineering in the mid-1990’s. My tuition gave me access to the school’s computer lab, where I spent a great deal of time between classes. More importantly, it allowed me to have free printing. I didn’t feel any shame in printing whatever I could, literally thousands and thousands of pages, as I was being charged exorbitant fees for things like Intramural Sports, an activity in which I, as a grown-up part-time student, would never participate.

My time in the computer lab was spent searching for on-line Holmes pastiches – and there were many. I started by working my way through the links on the original version of Christopher Redmond’s mind-blowing sherlockian.net website, and moved on from there, printing as I went. I’m glad that I archived these stories, because many of them have long since vanished, evaporated in an ephemeral e-puff of vapor. But I have them, along with all the others I’ve continued to collect since then, in over one-hundred-seventy-five big fat white binders lining the floor in front of the bookshelves containing of my Holmes collection.

As I progressed in my quest to acquire more traditional Holmes stories, I was able to refine my research techniques, aided by hints provided by my incredible wife, who is a research librarian – and very tolerant of my Holmes vice. These same techniques helped me to discover and track down a previously unknown myriad of additional traditional Holmes adventures, most of which I had never before encountered. I was already an addict, but this sudden tapping-in to the mother-lode of High-Grade Holmes only fed upon itself, and I began to collect more and more. I started reading and re-reading all of it, and along the way, making notes in a binder that I took with me everywhere, containing maps, useful information, and anything that would increase my understanding and pleasure in the stories. When I finished that first pass through everything I had at that point, I found that I had constructed a rough Holmes Chronology of both Canon and pastiche. Since then, it’s been through multiple ongoing revisions, and now it’s over seven-hundred-and-fifty densely printed pages, showing the complete lives of Holmes and Watson, and not just what is presented in those very few five-dozen stories funneled our way by the First Literary Agent. And yet, even with all of that information about the lives of Our Heroes, it isn’t enough. More! Give me more!

Media Pastiches

In the years since the mid-1990’s, the opportunity to find, read, collect, and dive into more and more Holmes adventures has only increased, and not just in printed form. Holmes has been well represented on radio. Bert Coules, who first supervised and helped write one of the best adaptations of the entire Canon for radio ever, then continued with his own set of original pastiches. Jim French, along with his able right-hand Larry Albert as Watson and John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes, guided Imagination Theatre through over one-hundred-thirty original adventures, as well as the only version of the complete Canon featuring the same actors as Holmes and Watson, along with each script being by written by one person, Matthew Elliott.

Over the years, pastiches on screen have included A Study in Scarlet (1933) with Reginald Owen, the Arthur Wontner films of the 1930’s, and the Basil Rathbone films from before, during, and after World War II. (For a bit of an explanation about those, check out "Basil Rathbone's Solar Pons Films" http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2016/11/basil-rathbones-solar-pons-films.html )

The 1959 version of The Hound with Peter Cushing had pastiche aspects. It was followed by the previously mentioned A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree. A new generation of movie-goers encountered Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). After a long wait came Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), each with a more action-packed Holmes, and then Mr. Holmes in 2014. (Some were unsettled at seeing Holmes in the aforementioned action-oriented films, showing such things as bare-knuckle boxing on screen, when those had previously only been presented off-stage. Likewise, others were uncomfortable viewing an elderly Holmes in his nineties – but if one has read about the entire lifespan of the man, then it’s only natural to see him at any age.)

On television, the 1954-1955 series with Ronald Howard – mostly pastiches – was followed by a 1979-1980 series from the same production group, this time starring Geoffrey Whitehead. Douglas Wilmer starred as an amazingly Canonical Holmes on the BBC from 1964 to 1965, and Peter Cushing followed in his footsteps in 1968. The Hound was televised with Steward Granger as Holmes in 1972, and again with Tom Baker in 1982 and Richard Roxburgh in 2002. The early 1980’s had Young Sherlock (1982), two Canonical films by Ian Richardson in 1983, and The Baker Street Boys (1983).

Holmes’s popularity was greatly increased by way of the Granada films, which ran from 1984 to 1994, featuring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke as very sensible and intelligent Watsons. As the show progressed, some of these Granada versions tended to stray into most definite pastiche territory.

Holmes’s other television appearances, both Canonical and stand-alone pastiche, have included Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976), Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), Hands of a Murderer (1991), Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991), Sherlock Holmes: Incident at Victoria Falls (1992), The Hound of London (1993), four films starring Matt Frewer (2000-2002), Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004) and Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars (2007). There have also been a few Russian productions.

Except for these, there has sadly been absolutely nothing about Sherlock Holmes on television since then whatsoever, except for a couple of shows that shamelessly trade on the use of Holmes’s name but only damage his reputation. A few others, such as House, MD, successfully incorporated Holmesian characteristics while forgoing any attempt to replace the originals with subversive and objectionable versions. (In this current bleak period when there has been nothing whatsoever about Holmes and Watson on television for ever ten years, one would be well advised to contact master dramatist Bert Coules, who has a set of scripts – complete and ready for filming – that depict Holmes and Watson in the early 1880’s, the correct time period. I can’t convince Bert to give me a peek, so someone is going to have to film them so I, and everyone else, will be able to know the stories!)

More and More Opportunities

The discovery of new cases by Holmes and Watson only continues to increase – and that’s a great thing. And it must be an indicator that people like me crave more and more adventures featuring Our Heroes. Still, I sometimes refer to myself as a missionary for The Church of Holmes, and my greatest task seems to be trying to make people respect these extra-Canonical Holmes adventures.

With ever-changing paradigms in communication and publishing, the discovery of new Holmes adventures seemingly accelerates every day. In addition to a few story collections or the rare novel presented by “mainstream” publishers, companies such as MX Publishing, Belanger Books, Wildside Press, Wessex Press, Baker Street Studios, and a few others continue to make it possible for new “editors” of Watson’s works to reach a public starving for additional narratives.

Sadly, there is sometimes an attitude from some quarters that pastiches are somehow less worthy than pure scholarly examinations of The Canon. Often pastiches are dismissed – except when a friend or celebrity has written one, in which case exceptions and are made and special dispensations granted. At other times, these new stories can only be considered “acceptable” if they are in a very pretty book from an approved list of publishers. In cases like this, where other adventures are rejected without a second glance simply because they don’t have the right pedigree, the potential reader is left immensely cheated. There are some amazing Holmes tales out there – online as fan fiction, or appearing in print-on-demand books – that are as good as anything one can find anywhere, and with of them are better than the original Canonical stories!

In the Nero Wolfe book The Mother Hunt (1963), Wolfe’s client asks:

“But you’re the best detective in the world, aren’t you?”

“Probably not,” he replies. “The best detective in the world may be some rude tribesman with a limited vocabulary.”

Pastiches are the same way – some of the best aren’t always to be found in a polished cleaned-up setting, like Wolfe in his Manhattan brownstone. Anyone who thinks so is limiting themselves and doesn’t even realize it.

Thankfully, there are still the opportunities to find new Holmes adventures all over the world, written by people who love the true Sherlock Holmes for people who love the true Sherlock Holmes. I’m incredibly thankful to be a part of it - and want to invite you to join the party as well . . . .

The MX Sherlock Holmes Anthologies

In early 2015, I awoke early from a dream where I had edited a Sherlock Holmes book – something that I’d never done before. I’d written and had published a few Holmes books by then, and I’d also edited a number of professional engineering reports over the years, but I’d never had this type of experience – and I’m not sure where the dream came from.

If I’d simply gone back to sleep, I might have forgotten about it. But I got up and looked over my Sherlock Holmes collection, which consists of several thousand volumes. I was checking to see which authors that I knew and could ask for stories, and identifying others that I’d like to invite to join the party. I emailed Steve Emecz of MX Books, who had published my previous books, to see if there was any interest, and he said to go ahead.

Over the next few days, I started sending emails, and the response was phenomenal. Over the first half of 2015, more and more Sherlockian authors heard about the project and wanted to be a part of it. What had initially been envisioned as a trade paperback of perhaps a dozen stories grew into two – and then three – massive volumes, published simultaneously, containing 63 new Holmes stories by some of the best Sherlockian authors from literally around the world.

I had insisted from the beginning that the stories be absolutely traditional and Canonical – no parodies, no actual supernatural encounters, and no anachronisms. And of course, the stories had to be good too. I believe that these requirements led to the immediate popularity of the books.

From the beginning, the author royalties have gone to support the Stepping Stones School for special needs students at Undershaw in Hindhead, England, one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes. In just a little over three years, we’ve raised over $40,000 for the school, with no end in sight.

When the first three volumes were published in October 2015, I believed that it was a one-time thing. However, almost immediately previous participants talked about new stories that they had written, and new authors wished that they had been a part of it. Since all the production decisions had already been made for the first three books, it was decided to go ahead and see if there was interest in a fourth. I was a bit nervous when I put out a call for new stories, but I didn’t need to be. The next book. Volume IV, was published in the spring of 2016, and was as successful as the first three. And in fact, so many new stories were coming in that it became necessary to publish yet another book, Volume V, in fall 2016.

Since then, the books have gone from success to success. There have now been over 300 new Holmes stories included in this series that wouldn’t have been written otherwise – and there can never be enough traditional and Canonical Holmes adventures! Additionally, we are approaching having 200 authors participating. So many excellent stories are regularly submitted that the spring or fall collections are now usually expanded to become two simultaneous volumes. Thus, in November 2018, only three years after the first publication, we are at Volumes XI and XII. And I’m already receiving stories for the spring and fall volumes of 2018!

We’ve had stories by both professional and amateur authors, as well as forewords by bestselling authors such as Lee Child, Jonathan Kellerman, Nicholas Meyer, and Lyndsay Faye. For the last couple of years, every volume has been very favorably reviewed by Publishers Weekly. I’m most proud of the money raised for the school, and also by the fact that several first-time authors were part of this, and have gone on to write other things – some now having their own books published too!

As a diligent editor, I’m always on the lookout for new stories and new participants. As mentioned, these have to be in the style of the original Holmes narratives. If anyone would like to submit a story for consideration, or if I can provide any additional information, I can be reached at:


I’m personally living my Sherlockian dream by being a part of this, and I can’t thank everyone enough who has participated in or supported these books. Long may they continue!

In conclusion . . . .

Pastiches are worth reading, and they’re worth writing. Where do you and the Sherlockians with whom you’re acquainted stand in regards to pastiches? Do you support them? Do you write them?

Consider the question by way of foundational Sherlockian Edgar W. Smith’s statement:

As a Sherlockian, are you worth your salt?