In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, is the book that launched a lawsuit – and the Free Sherlock movement.
Most Sherlockians probably know the gist of the story:
When King and Klinger edited their first volume of original stories suggested by the world’s first consulting detective, A Study in Sherlock, the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. asserted rights to the character. Their claim was based on the fact that the ten Holmes stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote after 1922 remain under copyright in the United States – and Estate owns the copyright.
Although King and Klinger didn’t believe it was necessary, their publisher paid a royalty. When the Estate came around for another bite of the apple as In the Company of Sherlock Holmes was being readied for publication, Klinger put his foot down. He sued.
Klinger argued that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and their milieu, are firmly set in the 50 stories not under copyright. Therefore, the character is in the public domain. The federal District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Sherlock was freed (for use in creative writing that did not encroach on remaining copyrights).
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes followed – and how fortunate that is!
The range of creativity in the fifteen contributions to this is book is amazing. It includes pastiches, cartoons, detective stories, horror tales, and the memoirs of a horse. Perhaps not all of it will be to your taste, but almost certainly some of it will be. There’s only room here to mention about half the entries.
Jeffrey Deaver’s “The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman,” about a young man thoroughly versed in the Canon who successfully investigates a serial, will stay with me a long time. I don’t think I could forget it if I tried.
“The Memoirs of Silver Blaze,” by Michael Sims, give us a new take on one of the most familiar stories in the Canon. Not surprisingly, the title character saw things that no one else did.
Several of the authors represented in the collection are well known, but perhaps none more so than Michael Connelly. In “The Crooked Man,” he gives his series character Harry Bosch a case based on the Canonical story of the same name, but with a very different ending. Bosch isn’t exactly the protagonist, though – that honor goes to an assistant coroner named Art Doyle.
Andrew Grant’s retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a series of social media posts. For example, we get “Dr. John Watson was at A Neolithic Stone Hut” with the notation “Sherlock Holmes likes this.” Spoiler alert: The case ends with “Sir Henry Baskerville has joined the group Hound Attack Survivors in Need of a Stiff Brandy.”
Leah Moore and John Reppion contributed a very funny comic strip called “The Problem of the Empty Slipper,” illustrated by Chris Doherty and Adam Cadwell. Gahan Wilson’s three panel cartoons are very typical of his distinctive style of line drawings, somewhere between macabre and whimsical.
The only thoroughly traditional Sherlock Holmes story comes from Sara Paretsky, creator Chicago private eye V. I. Warshawski. In style, plot, and spirit, “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer” strongly resembles the real thing written by Dr. Watson – but with a twist. There’s another detective in this story, one from the pages of American fiction who predated even Sherlock Holmes (but not who you think).
Michael Dirda, in “By Any Other Name,” reveals at last the explosive truth behind the real relationship between Dr. Watson and A. Conan Doyle.
Don’t sit down to read just one of these stories. I don’t think you can stop there.