In association with BBC7, BBC Cult presents five new (and unique) cases, read by Hannah Gordon and Andrew Sachs. Five episodes, all pastiches, by five different authors, and, taken alone or together, they mark some of the most singular and fascinating pastiches in existence today.
The Spy’s Retirement, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
In a unique twist on Holmes and Watson’s first meeting, The Spy’s Retirement tells the story of Watson’s first introduction to Sherlock Holmes. Watson, a spy for Queen and Country, and one of the most feared men in London, happens across a pair of confidence tricksters. This occurs when one of said tricksters (a man who later introduces himself as Professor Sigerson) collides with Watson’s four-horse carriage. The incidence leaves Sigerson on death’s door, or so the newly arrived doctor would have Colonel Watson believe. Sadly for the doctor, and Sigerson, Watson was once a surgeon, and so knows when an injury is being faked, leaving Sigerson and his brother to slink off in disgrace.
This would have ended the affair for Watson, had he not discovered that, prior to slinking off, Sigerson and his doctor brother had, in fact, managed to rob him of a collection of gold. Watson immediately looks into the matter and discovers that the pair are actually the Holmes brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, who are apprentices to one Professor James Moriarty.
It is with grudging respect that Watson realizes these men would be better off in the service of England, and so he sets a trap, capturing his men before offering Sherlock three options. Jail, death, or employment. Holmes accepts employment, becoming then an unofficial consulting detective, complete with an assistant in the form of Colonel Watson.
This is fantastic story, ripe with possibilities, and so realistic that one cannot help but wonder regarding its validity. This scenario is quite possible, almost plausible, and it is this, in addition to the well crafted story-telling, that makes this pastiche so utterly fantastic.
The Lady Downstairs, by Christopher Fowler
In what is perhaps my second favourite pastiche to date (Shambles in Belgravia earning the top spot), The Lady Downstairs is Mrs. Hudson’s story. Mrs. Hudson, so ill used by Holmes in Canon, tells her story, not seeming to mind Holmes’ perpetual abuse, for she knows her worth, and that said worth is too great for the mere Sherlock Holmes to deduce.
The case itself is rather secondary, the listener, like Mrs. Hudson, only hearing hints of the story; bits and pieces so that, like Mrs. Hudson, we are required to piece together the full story. The murder of a child is at stake, and it is amusing to note that it is Mrs. Hudson who sees the true solution, Holmes too held back by his own prejudices to see the full picture.
Mrs. Hudson (and the story’s reader) is simply brilliant in this pastiche. This is a side of her we never see, and so it is quite refreshing (as well as fascinating) too see Holmes’ going-ons from her perspective. Perhaps most interesting are Mrs. Hudson’s observations regarding Holmes and Watson. She states at one point that Holmes wishes to speak to no one regarding his cases, save Dr. Watson, implying that Watson truly is the only person Holmes has let into his life.
She even comments on his lack of interaction with women, and while she does get this wrong (Holmes does not actually put women on pedestals) it is interesting to note that even Mrs. Hudson knows Holmes well enough to avoid pairing him with the female sex.
Overall, though, this story is hers, Mrs. Hudson rising above and beyond the call of landlady, proving that she too is schooled in the art of observation and deduction.
The Lost World, by Dominic Green
This should be a ridiculous pastiche. The premise is certainly far-fetched. And yet, it is utterly fascinating, completely fantastic, and quite engaging. The story itself mirrors another of Doyle’s work, namely, The Lost World. It tells the tale of a man (Professor Challenger)’s music teacher, and his ability to control a live dinosaur solely through the use of a violin and trumpet. That he intends to use this dinosaur to commit murder is what soon attracts Sherlock Holmes.
This combining of genres (crime, mystery, and science fiction) prove quite successful, making for a case that is both interesting and compelling. Truly, the premise alone should have left me rolling my eyes, but Green makes this work, and makes it work quite well.
There is no point during this reading that I was not on the edge of my seat. Even now the image of Holmes and Watson, crawling through sewers in order to escape the unseen crashing in the distance, gives me shivers. Even the story of how a megalosaurus came to inhabit England is plausible (albeit one does need to suspend some disbelief). Truly this is the earmark of a well written pastiche. Added props for covering two of Doyle’s genres.
A Shambles in Belgravia, by Kim Newman
As mentioned above, A Shambles in Belgravia has officially become my favourite pastiche. The story is a stroke of pure genius.
Here, we are presented not with Holmes and Watson, but rather, with Professor Moriarty (keeper of wasps) and Colonel Moran. They are running an entirely different kind of practice, yet still manage to attract the attention of one Irene Adler.
Adler, desiring to secure her retirement, wishes to obtain a set of photographs in the hopes of using them for blackmail. She seeks Moriarty and Moran’s aid in doing just this, agreeing to 50% of the proceeds as their price.
What should then be a simply burglary becomes something else entirely, Moriarty desiring a challenge, and so, in an effort to secure the photographs, Moriarty stages a riot, which soon leads to a revolution. Genius, really.
Except, upon retrieving the photographs, Moriarty (or rather Moran, who is dying to see these scandalous, and risky photographs) soon discovers that he (they) have been duped. Adler has struck again, leading Moran to tell us that:
To Professor Moriarty, she is always that bitch.
The Deer Stalker, by Paul Cornell
Another fantastic tale, The Deer Stalker again manages to successfully blend science fiction with crime. Here, Holmes is pursued by an unknown force, led by a group of literary characters, who are bent on freeing Holmes from the confines of his fiction.
All of this begins with the discovery of a very unique weapon, one made years after the supposed date in the story. This perplexes Holmes and, sadly, sends him into a trap. Complete with helicopters, Count Dracula, and Alice in Wonderland, this story is about as fantastical as they come. Despite this, it works, making for an interesting, intriguing, and down-right brilliant pastiche.
The story evolves quite slowly, so in addition to being science fiction, the tale also comes across as quite mysterious. For the longest time we truly have no idea what is going on. This heightened sense of uncertainty only adds to the listening experience, the listener able to follow along with Dr. Watson, putting the pieces together until, finally, they all fall into place. This is good story-telling, and that, combined with such an innovative case, makes for a wonderful pastiche.
Again, taken as individual stories or together as a series, these pastiches are above and beyond anything I have read to date. They are fascinating, innovative, imaginative, and brimming with creativity. They easily earn five out of five pipes, and come highly recommended. In fact, listen to them twice.