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by James Lovegrove
Titan Books, January 2020
362 pages
ISBN: 1789092000

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

James Lovegrove has written so many Sherlock Holmes spinoffs, both full-length novels and brief, brisk adventures, that he is virtually the doppelganger of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Clever without ever being gimmicky and richly allusive without pretension, Lovegrove's Sherlockiana provides the deductive puzzles, caustic asides, and nuanced Holmes-Watson friendship that distinguish Doyle's canon. Sometimes Lovegrove mashes up that canon with other staples of Victorian literature and classic popular fiction, such as last year's THE CHRISTMAS DEMON and his three "Cthulhu casebooks," in which Holmes, the ultimate Baconian ratiocinator, must confront the weird metaphysical dangers of the world imagined by paranoid supernatural horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.

All these types of stories make an appearance in Lovegrove's latest book, THE MANIFESTATIONS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: A Short Story Collection. Most of the stories contained therein are reprints, but they come with editorial commentary by Lovegrove that shed new light on his old material. They're also among the best of Lovegrove's works. The collection starts strong with "The Adventure of the Marchindale Stiletto," a tale reminiscent of the canonical "Musgrave Ritual" but with a powerful debate about science, superstition, free will, and accident at its center.

With "The Problem of the Emperor's Netsuke," Lovegrove pays wry homage to a friend of his, "Stephen Harada DDS" (yes, a dentist) and to a Japanese artistic tradition that this reviewer did not previously know, but after reading the story, voraciously Googled. That tale is a new one, composed for this collection. Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson will appreciate "The Strange Tale of Dr. Sacker and Mr. Hope," which takes Sherlock and Watson well beyond their comfort zone and, apparently, Doyle's.

"The Affair of the Yithian Stone" is another Lovecraftian mashup. Another exclusive tale, "The Adventure of the Challenging Professor," comedically pits Doyle's detecting duo against the other investigator-hero that he created and tried--far, far less successfully--to franchise, Professor Challenger, ebullient discoverer of the South American plateau dinosaurs of THE LOST WORLD (1912), and arguably an antecedent to Indiana Jones.

Lovers of Holmes and Watson will find all these refreshing explorations of avenues Doyle did not take, but very well could have, given his cultural context. The collection would also make a nice present for anyone who likes the original Doyle canon and has yet to be convinced that the vast transmedia universe it inspired is worth exploring.

Lovegrove introduces THE MANIFESTATIONS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES with the comment that Doyle's novels are, with the possible exception of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, not his most successful works. They're baggy monsters, filled out by florid criminal confessions and other kinds of column-inch-eating exposition. It's the short stories, Lovegrove argues, in which Sherlock really shines. In compiling THE MANIFESTATIONS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, Lovegrove demonstrates why.

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, January 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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