Today is the birthday of Sherlock Holmes, as determined by Christopher Morley. So it is appropriate that I call your attention to the curious incident of Sherlock Holmes in Morley’s novel The Haunted Bookshop.
You know what’s coming: There is no Sherlock Holmes in The Haunted Bookshop, not a single reference, and “that is the curious incident.”
Morley is revered as the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars (although it is fair to say that Edgar W. Smith saved it and molded into what it is today). It curious indeed that Morley mentions Holmes not at all in a book filled with prose about writers and their characters.
Nevertheless, The Haunted Bookshop is a book well worth reading. It features bookseller Roger Mifflin from Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, no longer on wheels but now the proprietor of a used bookstore in Brooklyn “haunted by unread books.”
It’s a mystery, a romance, and a book that is for the most part a delight to read from the very first sentence: “If you are ever in Brooklyn, that borough of superb sunsets and magnificent vistas of husband-propelled baby-carriages, it is to be hoped you may chance upon a quiet by-street where there is a very remarkable bookshop.”
Remarkable indeed! A copy of Thomas Carlyle’s Oliver Cromwell, a book much beloved by Woodrow Wilson, keeps disappearing from its shelves and reappearing again. Advertising copywriter Aubrey Gilbert fears that bookshop employee Titania Chapman, with whom he is head over heels, is in danger. His efforts to protect her almost kill the romance in its infancy.
The Haunted Bookshop, published in 1919, has aged remarkably well but is still a period piece. That is inevitable, given that it was highly topical when written. All the characters are haunted by the recently concluded Great War, which is not incidental to the plot. President Wilson is mentioned so much he is practically a character in the story. A sadly modern twist, however, is Roger Mifflin’s disdain bordering on hatred for the political party to which he doesn’t belong.
I’ve read all of Morley’s Sherlockian writings, which were collected by Steven Rothman in The Standard Doyle Company, but this was my first brush with his fiction. It made me sad once again that my friends and I won’t be occupying our usual place under the painting of Morley at McSorley’s Pub in Manhattan this Friday during the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend.
|McSorley's Pub, 2018|
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