Rex Stout, the great mystery writer – and Sherlockian – once estimated that about a third of all his reading was books he’d read before. I can’t say the same, but I do enjoy revisiting old friends from time to time.
Not long ago, for example, I picked up a copy of the Julian Symons novel A Three-Pipe Problem, which I remembered enjoying when I read it in paperback back in the 1980s. And I enjoyed it all over again.
Anyone more than casually familiar with Sherlock Holmes will recognize the title’s reference to the Holmes quote “It is quite a three-pipe problem” from “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.” But this isn’t a pastiche. It’s a 20th century mystery about a television actor named Sheridan Haynes who lives on Baker Street and plays Holmes on television. When chance puts real-life murders in his path, how can he not don the deerstalker?
With the help of his own Irregulars, and the hindrance of Scotland Yard, “Sheri” takes on the case – all the while insisting (to general disbelief) that he hasn’t confused fact and fiction. The solution is surprising and satisfying. And even better, I didn’t remember it!
I must say it proceeds at a rather leisurely pace, which may not be for everyone.
Haynes appeared again in The Kentish Manor Murders, which I’ve not read.
Symons was a well-known British mystery critic, as well as a practitioner of the craft. His books of interest to Sherlockians include Great Detectives, Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, and Mortal Consequences: A History from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel.