“I have never failed to read a Solar Pons adventure with satisfaction and pleasure,” the great Vincent Starrett wrote. Clearly, the admiration was mutual. “The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians,” from the title on, is a call-back to Starrett’s classic Holmes pastiche, “The Adventure of the Unique ‘Hamlet.’”
Like the Starrett story, “Dickensians” is “a good-humored satire on book collectors,” as my edition of “‘Hamlet’” says. Each story features two bibliophiles and (spoiler) a forged book or manuscript. “You know my opinion of collectors,” Pons tells Parker. “They are all a trifle mad, some more so than others.” This echoes Holmes’s comment near the end of “‘Hamlet’”: “They are a strange people, these book collectors.” Even more telling is the opening scene, where Watson tells Holmes “surely here comes a madman” in reference to their future client.
Both stories open with a view of the street, with Pons calling Parker to the window in “Dickensians” and the reverse in the Starrett story. And both end with a measure of forgiveness on the part of the client.
“Dickensians,” as even a Watson or a Parker could deduce without reading the story, is also a tribute to another great British writer. The client is Ebeneezer Snawley, who has more in common with Scrooge than just his first name. This “Christmas Carol” sendoff is an element that is completely lacking in “‘Hamlet.’” But “‘Hamlet’” was first published privately for Christmas 1920 – exactly when “Dickensians” takes place. A coincidence? I think not!
These two great short stories have one other commonality: They represent some of the best work of their respective authors. Reading them is a pleasure that does not diminish with repetition.
This short article appears in the last issue of The Solar Pons Gazette, an impressive and fascinating journal of Ponsiana edited by Bob Byrne. It's a heavy 54 online pages, and this piece appears on page 44. You should read the whole issue!