"Sherlock Holmes: The American Years" edited by Michael Kurland: Book Review

"Sherlock Holmes: The American Years"
edited by Michael Kurland
Minotaur, 347 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Michael Kurland has assembled a smashing sampling of new short fiction, all based on the premise that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective, Sherlock Holmes, visited the United States at least once during his illustrious fictional lifetime.

All of these stories transpire during the 1870s and 1880s, placing Holmes as anywhere from a gawky teenager to a still-gawky man in his early twenties, practicing his nascent detecting skills while continuing to ponder his career path.

Most of the pieces clarify that Holmes has had at least a bit of university training (Cambridge generally receives the honors), that he has studied chemistry and theorizes that a crime scene should be examined as scientifically as possible.

Four selections herein find Holmes in the wild, wild west, addressing highway robberies in Rhys Bowen's "Cutting for Sign" and Linda Robertson's "The Stagecoach Detective," both of which emerge as noble nods to the Conan Doyle oeuvre.

Holmes assists an M.D. cousin in solving a case of strychnine poison (the target: a Civil War officer who has become an Irish nationalist) in a Nebraska prairie town in Peter Tremayne's "The Case of the Reluctant Assassin." Marta Randall's "The English Senor" finds Holmes en route from Mexico City to Veracruz-- in the commanding company of a wealthy old woman and her household-- pursued by a corrupt general in Juarez-era Mexico.

Two stories-- Steve Hockensmith's "The Old Senator" and Carole Bugge's "The Curse of Edwin Booth"-- feature Holmes encountering acting troupes and performances by the Bard.

Gary Lovisi's "The American Adventure" stars a duplicitous actress with whom Holmes falls helplessly in love, resulting in an important lesson of allowing emotions to trump reason and logic.

Holmes tries his hand as a professional violinist in a ship's orchestra in Richard A. Lupoff's "Inga Sigerson Weds," while his older sister disguises herself as a male flutist (as arranged by brother Mycroft), all for the the sake of their attending a cousin's nuptials "across the pond."

Two stories stand out for their charm and Holmesian flavor. "The Sacred White Elephant of Mandalay," by Michael Mallory, sets Holmes and a traveling chum in the midst of bizarre circumstances when they take a side-trip from New York City to view one of P.T. Barnum's animal oddities.

"My Silk Umbrella," by Darryl Brock, turns on a trifle at a baseball game in Hartford, Connecticut, at which Holmes encounters Samuel Clemens, who narrates the story. The unlikely combination of Mark Twain, Sherlock Holmes, and a baseball game makes for a superlative story by any standards.

Editor Kurland has helmed other anthologies similar to this one, and future volumes in this vein ought to prove most welcome.

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