Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book Review: Ghosts in Baker Street

I discovered Sherlock Holmes when I was ten and have been addicted to detective stories ever since. Add the words "Baker Street" and you've got my attention.

In The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," Holmes tells Watson that "...this agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply." So, of course, these ten short stories deal with ghosts. Or the possibilities of ghosts.

Each story is written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of his famous detective and each tries its best to remain true to the Holmesian Legacy. Some are more successful than others. A couple of the authors explained the apparently supernatural completely rationally. Others were ambiguous.

At the end are three essays about the effect Sherlock Holmes has had, either on the author personally or on the genres of the detective, mystery, and even ghost stories. What one writer pointed out was the wealth of characters that appeared in print around the same time as Sherlock Holmes: Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Fu Manchu. Sigmund Freud's writings were just becoming known. Jack the Ripper stalked the streets. I hadn't realized that all this was going on about the same time.

I also didn't know that Sir Conan Doyle was knighted for his history of the Boer War. And I confess I've never read any of his other works like The Lost World or The White Company. (Add a couple of more books to the list, I guess...)

My favorite short story of the bunch is "The Coole Park Problem," which takes place in a country estate in Ireland and brings together Irish folklore, Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Sherlock Holmes, and John Watson. The author kind of cheated at the end, but I found myself grinning. Holmes would not have approved, but Sir Conan Doyle might.

On the March Hare scale: 3 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.