There are many different types of Holmes pastiche and its an area that’s growing fast for us as a publisher. The most common is what many refer to as a ‘traditional pastiche’. Telling new stories, in the style of Conan Doyle, with the same characters, in the same time period. When you read a good traditional pastiche, you can imagine that it could have come from the pen of Conan Doyle. Within this genre, there are short story collections, like The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes (Tony Reynolds), and The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (Gerard Kelly) that follow the mini-story format. Adding to the authenticity both of these include drawings similar to those that appeared alongside the Holmes stories when published in The Strand.
In the traditional style you also have novels. We’re delighted to have our first example in Rendezvous at The Populaire which is a fascinating encounter pitting Holmes against The Phantom of The Opera. We have great hopes for this series as there are already four more mapped out.
Both Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes and the BBC’s Sherlock are not traditional pastiches, but for very different reasons. Richie keeps to Victorian London, but strays away from the original in a number of areas, not least in the interests of heart stopping action. Though the originals had plenty of action, they weren’t littered with explosions and chases. The BBC have stayed much closer to the original characters, but changed the setting to the modern day. The genius of having Holmes issue simultaneous ‘Wrong’ texts to the assembled press at the Lestrade press conference makes me smile every time I think of it.
It has been very interesting to hear the views of the ‘traditionalists’ when it comes to the above two new interpretations. By and large there is wholesale support for the BBC and clamour for more episodes. Richie in my humble opinion was in a no-win situation as far as the traditionalists were concerned. Nobody would ever be able to compare to Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone’s images of Holmes, yet a reconstruction that was very traditional would probably have bombed at the box office, so I think he’s got the mix about right.
A whole new generation of fans are enjoying Holmes on the big screen. Take one look at the Sherlock Holmes group on Facebook for the movie with its 1.4 million fans and you can see that the age range spans across all generations.
The next group of pastiches is still set in the original setting of Victorian London, but takes either new characters and weaves them into the original stories, or takes an aspect of the originals and expands on that particular element. Both these areas can be done both seriously and/or with humour.
The latter is very evident in the series of stories from Molly Carr. Molly takes the character of Mrs.Watson and makes her the central heroine. She adds a side kick in her friend Emily Fanshaw. Molly’s novel follow similar storylines, in the Victorian timeframe with Watson and Fanshaw having their own adventures. Their first outing The Sign Of Fear had the traditionalists up in arms that you could have a ‘Female Sherlock Holmes’ but even those that set out to be annoyed were won over by the humor in the writing which was further exhibited in the second book, A Study In Crimson. Molly stretches the boundaries by pulling in characters from other novels as well. Emily finds herself (many times) dressing as a man to ensure they can progress in several situations where the Victorian era dictates ‘only men can tread’.
More traditional and rather more serious are those focussing on the life of Dr.Watson whose character played second fiddle to Holmes and where Conan Doyle left many questions unanswered – great gaps for a pastiche writer to exploit. Take Kieran McMullen. An ex-military man himself (following the old adage about writing about what you know) Kieran decides to answer the many questions about Watson’s military career by writing an entire pastiche novel around it. Watson’s Afghan Adventure as the name suggests covers Watson’s time as a military doctor in Afghanistan. There are several sub-adventures involved in true Conan Doyle style, but the book has a lot of military detail and has been well received by Holmes fans – and extremely well by Watsonians. One look at Amazon USA shows the glowing reviews for the military authenticity. Keiran’s blog has several articles supplementing that detail.
Such biographies of the key characters are popular. Molly Carr took a break from her Mrs.Watson series to deliver what some regard as her seminal work – In Search of Dr Watson – a very detailed biography. Molly has a distinction in Watsonian studies and it shines through.
It is very interesting to note that pastiches appear to be very popular on Amazon Kindle. Perhaps because ebooks have been more popular for fiction rather than historical books, and also perhaps because the original stories are available for free on Kindle and other eBook formats.
The final group of pastiches is the one most removed from the original. The ‘fantasy’ or ‘fantastical’ pastiche takes elements of Holmes, in the case of Shadowfall the main characters, and puts them in situations that are quite a long way from Conan Doyle’s style, location and storylines. In Shadowfall within the first few pages we are introduced to rather nasty fairies (not pretty little things at the bottom of your garden these) and we go on an increasingly dark journey where Holmes is battling to save the soul of Watson.
It is the very detached pastiches that many Holmes historians struggle with but ironically seem the most popular with the fans. Shadowfall has topped the MX charts since its launch in March 2011, closely followed by The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes. It will be very interesting to see which has the more enduring following and in which formats.
The full list of MX pastiches (in order of worldwide sales):
- The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes
- Watson’s Afghan Adventure
- In Search of Dr.Watson
- A Study In Crimson
- The Sign of Fear
- The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (pre-order)
- Rendezvous at The Populaire (pre-order)
We also should mention, linked to pastiches are those novels/thrillers that are linked to Holmes through their storylines. Murder In The Library by Felicia Carparelli is one of those. A the book centres around a character who is a big Holmes fan and (without spoiling the plot) the solving of the case requires all their Sherlockian knowledge.