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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Good Book Can be a Bad 'Forgery'

Your scribe meets Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer has given me the vocabulary to articulate what I have long believed.

The brilliant and witty author of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has been making the rounds launching his newest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, TheAdventure of the Peculiar Protocols. In a talk to the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis last weekend, and in an interview on “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” he talked about his fascination with forgeries.

Meyer considers a pastiche a kind of forgery. I believe he has said this before.

And here’s what I think: A non-Canonical Sherlock Holmes short story or novel can be a good read, with a great plot and characters that jump off the page, and yet be a lousy forgery. By that I mean it doesn’t give the reader the illusion of the real thing. It may fail to do in many ways – by being too long, by having a title that doesn’t sound Watsonian, by bringing in historical characters, by referring to Arthur Conan Doyle as Watson's friend, etc. These characteristics don’t necessarily make a bad book – but they do, in my view, make a bad forgery.  

I’ve even read stories touted as “traditional” pastiches in which Holmes and Watson refer to each other by their first names! That will never do.

Whether a forgery (to use Meyer’s term) is a good one or not is largely subjective, of course. For that reason, I am loath to give examples of each. But I’ll risk saying this: Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story fails because it is pure heresy, whereas Vincent Starrett’s “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” is pitch-perfect, as close to the real thing as you will ever read.

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