Devotees of Sherlock Holmes fan fiction have a great way to celebrate the fall equinox this year, with a new collection of short stories out by Titan Books entitled Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes, a follow up to 2016’s well-received Associates of Sherlock Holmes. The list of contributors is laden with talent from the genre, including PopMythology favorite James Lovegrove whom we’ve raved about in the past. These tales are additionally set to an intriguing back-beat; each story is written from a different, non-Holmesian point-of-view. We’ve encountered and thoroughly enjoyed this special effect in the past in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft Holmes, which was narrated by the titular voice.
This collection, however, speaks from characters sporting a wide variety of prominence, from the nefarious Moriarty all the way to Toby the scent-tracking dog introduced in The Sign of the Four. (For the curious, this is Lovegrove’s contribution. Having enjoyed many of his books, I am not surprised he took home the award for the most outré contribution.) The sheer variety added a great deal to the collection and part of the fun was interspersing the reading of the new stories with returns to the original Doyle canon to refresh memories of the characters. One thing that became evident upon doing this was how well Doyle’s writing lends itself to continuing fan fiction contributions. Stuart Douglas points out in the introduction to his story how well-drawn nearly all of Doyle’s characters are, even the minor ones. But this character creation was also accomplished with a singular economy of words. In fact, Moriarty only shows up twice in Doyle’s stories, but he is arguably a literary villain archetype. What this means for Further Associates is that the contributors had a rich pool of voices to select from to create these fantastic tales.
Another interesting bonus from this collection is what we learn of Holmes and his process from the alternate perspectives. The original stories were all subject to Watson’s strengths and blind spots, and thus often emphasize medically forensic details to the sometimes neglect of others. In Further Associates, we get to take to the alleys with Holmes’ Baker Street Boys, see the inside of the police force, and even spend an afternoon dusting up with the maternal Mrs. Hudson in the quiet hours at 221. These characters all have their own frame of reference to add additional dimensions to the quintessential Holmes skillset. There is also a story narrated as-per-tradition by Watson. The distinctive element in this tale is that Watson is not relating Holmes’ story, but rather taking on an autobiographical slant.
If I had one criticism for this collection, I would grouse about the neglect of Irene Adler’s voice. Yes, it is an obvious choice, no argument. Perhaps it even borders on apostasy and smacks of irreverence to assume this perspective. But Adler represents a core human element inside a otherwise seemingly infallible, omniscient character. Without her, Holmes risks being reduced (in modern vernacular) to a flesh-made data-gathering, pattern-matching algorithm. Yet our adoration and fascination for him is enduring. To discover why, we should look to those whom he loved and was loved by.
“I can’t be found in myself; I discover myself in others. That much is clear. And I suspect that I also love and care for myself in others.” –Hugh Prather