Nicholas Meyer, whose The Seven-Per-Cent Solution touched off the Sherlock Holmes tsunami of the 1970s, is back with his fourth Holmes pastiche. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is an adventure indeed, with Holmes and Watson tapped to debunk the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic hoax that persist to this day.
It’s a wonderful ride, with the Orient Express taking our heroes to Tsarist Russia and from there into the darkness of the human soul. It’s a well-written and expertly plotted novel. I read it quickly, and with great enjoyment. It belongs on your bookshelf, although with Meyers’s other three novel-length pastiches. (My favorite remains The West End Horror.)
And yet, in reading it, I never felt that I was experiencing The Real Thing, i.e., the Sacred Writings of Dr. Watson via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The reasons are numerous, but the easiest to convey without spoilers (the book won’t be published until October) is the storyline. All four Canonical novels begin with a mystery to be solved. By contrast, although there is murder in Protocols, there is no real mystery.
As a matter of personal preference, I enjoy (and have tried to write) pastiches that would fit comfortably into the Canon. Such stories are rare, partly because authors understandably like to make their own unique contribution to the Baker Street saga. Thus, we often have stories that not only add to what we know about Holmes and Watson, but even change it.
One of the greatest temptations is to introduce historical personages or other fictional characters into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle never did that. References to real people are frequent in the Canon, but they do not appear as characters. To me, this divergence in a pastiche – an attempt to write in the style of the original author – is always jarring. But it can still be fun!
Not all Sherlock Holmes stories are pastiches, however. Some are parodies, in which character traits are exaggerated for laughs. Some are Sherlock Holmes stories written at least partially in the third person or a voice other than that of Watson. Some are stories co-starring Sherlock Holmes, with another figure the main interest. And some – a growing number – present us with and alternative Holmes and/or Watson who is female, African American, a robot, or whatever.
And which is best? Whatever you like best!