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In one respect, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a dismal failure. He had no success at all in killing off his key character at the Reichenbach Falls. Not only did he himself resurrect Sherlock Holmes, but a host of others followed suit. Holmes continues to roam the world at large, a familiar presence on page and on screen, as well as across the whole range of other modern media. As for his literary afterlife, MX Publishers alone has 150 or so Sherlock Holmes authors, and more than than 500 Sherlock Holmes books in its catalogue. One of their most recent releases, Geoffrey Finch's The Uncollected Cases of Sherlock Holmes, rings so true in every detail that, at first glance, it might have been transcribed from some long-lost manuscript. But this is a Holmes subtly reimagined for our own times. His exchanges with his loyal companion Dr Watson are recorded with humour and wit, and Watson only confirms our own suspicions when he says, at the conclusion of one of their adventures, "You pretend indifference, but I know otherwise" (241).

The mysteries facing the pair in these "uncollected cases" are typically intriguing. Who keeps laying flowers of various numbers and colours on a grave, only for them to vanish soon afterwards? Why did a woman living rough on the edge of Exmoor entrust the local vicar with a precious necklace and locket before disappearing? And how on earth did a highly prized fossil go missing from its locked display case in the Natural History Museum? As in any good detective tales, such puzzles lead to trails with several wrong turnings and not a few risks (at one point, Holmes falls out of a tree), culminating in surprising conclusions that are nevertheless perfectly logical in retrospect. All this, of course, is very satisfying, quite unlike the messiness of real life, which invariably defeats logic and rarely yields neat answers.

Left to right: (a) Holmes and Watson hunt their prey in London. (b) Holmes engaged in chemical experiments, with Watson looking on. (c) Holmes immersed in music at a concert.

Holmes, on whom the success of the collection ultimately depends, is as compelling as ever. Highly perceptive, he is not entirely dependent on his deductive methods: he is good at thinking outside the box, and not above employing subterfuge himself. Well may Watson ask, in mingled exasperation and admiration, "How the devil did you know...?" (66). Confident of his own powers, he is still eager to hone them, endangering the soft furnishings of their Baker Street rooms, not to mention the lives of the occupants, with his scientific experiments: Watson fears they will all be incinerated one day. Highly strung, he needs the solace not only of his tobacco but of playing and listening to music, and, less innocently, of injections of opium to relax. Relaxation, however, is only a prelude to inspired and unstoppable activity. He thirsts for challenges: after one case is solved, he frets for another. Watson explains, "He is never more alive than when puzzling over a problem, and never so depressed as when he has solved it" (302). How fortunate, then, that the challenges keep on coming!

Holmes and Watson on the move, deep in speculation.

Equally satisfying here is the Victorian setting. The cover plunges the reader right into the hubbub of Victorian London, where localities range from Southwark to Mayfair. From Baker Street, Holmes and Watson tote their Gladstone further afield, to places as far apart as the New Forest and Inverness. Engagements with suspects and villains occur in a variety of haunts, including a toll house, pubs, circuses, country homes, a castle, a cathedral, and museums great and small. As well as crimes like murder, forgery and kidnapping, they uncover many of the age's casual cruelties: a young girl forced into prostitution to help her family; a child with special needs brought up in seclusion, and in danger of being exploited for show; a high wire performer with no safety-net to cushion his fall. Lack of the health and safety regulations which seem so irksome today must have cost many Victorians their lives.

The author's touch is very light, but solid research underpins settings and situations, most strikingly in the fossil mystery, which brings to life the paleontologist Sir Richard Owen, and in another adventure, where Holmes and Watson attend a seance — Conan Doyle's intrest in spiritualism is well known, although Holmes takes a commonsense approach to it here. Most important of all, familiar fictional characters themselves are totally convincing. These include not only the trusty Watson, whose advice Holmes rarely deigns to take; their long-suffering landlady, Mrs Hudson, who here evinces an unexpected passion for the circus; Holmes's elder brother Mycroft; his own paid "Irregulars"; and, of course, the professional detectives whom Holmes outdoes at every turn. It is all very entertaining, sometimes positively scary, sometimes laugh-out-loud amusing. Examples here would give too much away, but there is one episode in which Holmes's prodigious sneeze saves the day!

Applying a magnifying glass reveals some haste in the copy-editing stage, such as a few questions without question marks, and absent commas. And, in one episode, a give-away whiff of snuff suggests a different culprit from the one later identified — though this may be just another of the cunning Dr Finch's red herrings!

Links to related material


Finch, Geoffrey. The Uncollected Cases of Sherlock Holmes London: MX Publishing, 2022. Hardcover. 334 pp. ISBN 978-1-78705-992-4. £17.99 / €19.99 / $24.95

Created 14 May 2022