When it comes to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, I’m a purist. But even I succumb once in a while to a light-hearted riff on the Canon. Take, for example, The Crimes ofDr. Watson.
“Edited” by Duane Swierczynski and published in 2007, this gimmicky but clever work is one of those books that includes physical objects. Billed as an “interactive mystery,” it might be better described as three-dimensional.
During the Great Hiatus, Dr. Watson is inexplicably charged with arson, torture, and murder! Without Holmes to save him, he writes from prison to a Philadelphia detective he once met named Col. H. Kelsh Resno. The bulk of the book is that letter, supplemented with supporting materials to help explain the events leading up to Watsons’s imprisonment.
At one point in the letter, the good doctor recalls Holmes challenging him to identify all the various smells in the London air. “No manure, Sherlock,” Watson replies. “If that is what you were suggesting.”Most of the book is better than that, but about ultimately about that serious.
But it’s also well-written in places. I liked this: “I carefully untied the string and opened the leather case, which groaned like an old man struggling to pull himself out of a chair. Inside was a motley assortment of letters, postcards, maps, and other yellowed junk. Whatever turns old, turns yellow. People included.” That’s the “editor’s” voice, not Watson’s.Those items of yellowed junk are included in the book – theater tickets, a postcard, a railroad timetable, a matchbook, a telegraph, arrest records, the torn pages of a book, the drawing of a strange creature, a diagram of an artificial leg, a brochure, and a newspaper.
The final item is a sealed return letter from Col. Resno solving the mystery in all its elements – a solution that, while scandalous, is far less surprising in these post-BBC Sherlock days.Reading The Crimes of Dr. Watson made for a pleasant hour or so, an experience much enhanced by Clint Hansen’s wonderful illustrations in woodcut style. In fact, I would love to see his artistry applied to the Canon itself.