The countless short Sherlock Holmes pastiches that have appeared in professional print range so widely in both quality and availability, an anthology of the best ones would be invaluable. Editor John Joseph Adams has attempted something of the kind, confining himself to the past thirty years.
Many traditionalists believe a new Sherlock Holmes adventure should be grounded in the world we know, free from occult, supernatural, or science fictional intrusions. Adams feels differently. By my rough count only seven of the 28 contributors are primarily known as mystery writers, and most of the others are identified with fantasy, horror, or s.f. Nearly two-thirds of the stories, however, have non-supernatural solutions, including Stephen King's strong lead-off, "The Doctor's Case," which combines a John Dickson Carr locked room with an Agatha Christie whodunit surprise and is solved (for reasons logically explained) by Watson.
For me, Holmes can work (that is, be himself) in a science fictional context, where rational deduction can be brought to bear on a speculative situation. Indeed one of the two or three best stories in the book is Geoffrey Landis's "The Singular Habits of Wasps," a unique take on the Jack the Ripper case which first appeared in a 1994 issue of Analog. Stephen Baxter's "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjuster," in which H.G. Wells appears as a character, is another good example of a genuine s.f. detective story.
Occult or supernatural stories are a more difficult fit. After all, when Arthur Conan Doyle wanted a fictional mouthpiece for his spiritualist beliefs, it was Professor Challenger he threw under the omnibus, not Sherlock Holmes. Adams has chosen no fewer than three stories from the 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, which combined the world of Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, a dubious cross-pollination. Barbara Hambly's "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece," does an excellent job with the characters and style but simply doesn't work as a Sherlock Holmes story. More successful is Tim Lebbon's chilling "The Horror of the Many Faces," which begins with an unthinkable situation: Watson finds Holmes in the act of bloody surgical murder. The third may be the finest story in Adams's book, Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," an alternate universe retelling of A Study in Scarlet that is brilliantly written and ingeniously constructed.
Best of the more traditional puzzle stories are Peter Tremayne's "The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey," which takes a fresh look at the James Phillimore vanishing mystery, and Sharyn McCrumb's "The Vale of the White Horse," a cleverly clued dying-message story. Among well-known science fiction writers contributing non-s.f. tales are Vonda K. McIntyre, Michael Moorcock, and Tanith Lee. Mystery specialists represented include Edward D. Hoch, Laurie R. King, H. Paul Jeffers, Anne Perry, and Amy Myers.
The weakest stories are the least serious. Dominic Green's "The Adventure of the Lost World," involving both Holmes and Challenger, is pure parody, strained in its humor. Anthony Burgess's semi-parodic "Murder to Music" offers a rational plot but isn't as funny as intended. I may have been missing something in the book's oddest entry (quite a distinction in this collection), Tony Pi's "Dynamics of a Hanging," a code and cipher story in which Lewis Carroll and Conan Doyle himself appear as characters along with Watson but Holmes (ostensibly dead) does not.
Has Adams succeeded in gathering the best Holmes pastiches of the past thirty years? I certainly would have included Donald Thomas and June Thomson, two of the very best at the game, and possibly prolific specialists Val Andrews and John Hall. But agree with all the selections or not, this 454-page trade paperback is a bargain for readers and collectors, few of whom will have all the stories in their original appearances.