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by Michael A Ventrella and Jonathan Maberry, eds.
Diversion Books, March 2017
304 pages
ISBN: 1626818401

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In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes adventure, A STUDY IN SCARLET (1887), Holmes hires a street child named Wiggins and his gang to spy for him. Doyle calls this gang the "Baker Street Irregulars." Over the decades, the name has been appropriated by various groups of Sherlock Holmes fans.

Today, Michael A. Ventrella and Jonathan Mayberry give it new meaning with their anthology BAKER STREET IRREGULARS: THIRTEEN AUTHORS WITH NEW TAKES ON SHERLOCK HOLMES. These new tales are each "irregular" in some way. Instead of adding to the Holmes corpus, they reboot it, locating it in new genres (particularly science fiction and horror), and new settings (a reality TV show set!) and new contexts (the world's most extended, and funniest, parrot joke.) The resulting cache of cases will delight fans of the Sherlock Holmes universe by turning it into a multiverse. There's something here for everyone, probably whether or not one is already a Baker Street fan.

The collection gets off to an exciting start with Mike Strauss's "Locked," in which Sherlock is a reality-show host, using his deductive talent to solve the problems of lucky members of the television audience--or so it seems. Actually, something much more disturbing is going on, which reveals a great deal about the porous boundaries between reality television scripting, and, well, reality. As Strauss demonstrates, there's actually something worse than "reality" presidency: "reality" crime-solving.

In several stories, the Sherlock character is a woman, be she "Shirley Holmes," of New York City (Keith DiCandido's "Identity") or "Lock Holmes" (Heidi McLaughlin's "Delta Phi"). The latter story is one of the book's best and most memorable. Lock, a college freshman, is engaged by her rather absent-minded professor to crack a particularly tough case of exam-cheating by frat boys. Surprises abound, including that not all frat boys are incapable of deduction. This story is simultaneously one of the simplest and most human of the bunch, but also has the least guessable denouement.

For purists, Ryk Spoor's "The Adventure of the Reluctant Detective" actually takes place in 1889, in the mahogany-leather-and-smoke den in Baker Street, and is narrated by the physician John Watson. A secretive lady makes an appearance, and Holmes indulges in violin improvisation and cocaine. The verbal styles sounds very Doyle, and Watson has been passing his stories to "Mr. Doyle." (His knighthood came only in 1902, for his propaganda during the Boer War in South Africa. He had written, among other things partial to the British cause, that Britain's "concentration camps" - the actual word - were in fact humanitarian refugee camps.) If this fact about Holmes's life is a paradigm shift, it is only slightly more so than the ending of Spoor's tale.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a nineteenth-century fiction classic in possession of a good fan base, must be in want of a vampire variation, so Hildy Silverman provides one, titled "A Scandal in the Bloodline." This humorous take on the aforementioned literary trend is a bit derivative. Must Vampire Holmes have a werewolf Watson, who's a bit nebbishy, like Russell Tovey? However, the conceit adds a needed bit of humor after several dark or uncanny contributions, and allows Silverman to explore how a Victorian (-born, anyway), Holmes, Watson, and Irene Norton (nee Adler) would fare in the twenty-first century.

At the risk of sacrilege, this review would venture to say that some of Baker Street Irregulars' modernizations of the Holmes-Watson premise are much better than its currently most popular update, the BBC television series Sherlock. Most of them make more sense than Sherlock, anyway. And we all know that in the world of Sherlock Holmes, after things make mayhem, they must make sense. Unlike, say, reality.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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