"'The Bible!' I cried triumphantly." - The Valley of Fear
When I was asked to review Sherlock Holmes and the Needles Eye by Len Bailey (Thomas Nelson Publishers), I was a little concerned (as a card-carrying Papist) that I'd not be its intended audience. Now, however, I believe it might be of interest to those members of the Sherlockian community who want to build their Biblical knowledge. The book was developed to be used both as a Bible study and as a pastiche. One may read through the story straight, or go back and ponder the mysteries through study questions provided in the back of the book.
The good: The Bible portion of this book is really pretty interesting. The mysteries are engaging in terms of the questions asked and the answers Holmes gives. Holmes does employ his method of deduction in ways that are true to character. As someone who is interested in Christian scripture, I’d wondered about some of the particular events Mr. Bailey explores, and he does a great job with them. I especially liked the mystery of what Christ was writing on the ground when confronted with the woman caught in adultery. In my own Catholic tradition, I’d learned that He was writing the sin of the Pharisees... but what sin exactly? The answer here is pretty well-conceived. In a nutshell the problems presented are good ones, the solutions are really quite good, too. Which leads me to...
The lacking: How many Holmes stories are there where the primary plot convention is a time machine? Several. In fact most recently there was a Christian pastiche in which Holmes solves the mystery of Christ’s resurrection by jumping in an H. G. Wells-ish time machine (An Opened Grave: Sherlock Holmes Investigates His Ultimate Case by L. Frank James). I would have suggested to Mr. Bailey, had I read this in manuscript form, that he have Holmes solving the problems through “modern” (as …in his own time) sleuthing rather than traveling back in time. Bailey does put forth some fun ideas, like having Holmes solve one case with Mrs. Hudson, so it’s not ALL bad. But the time machine cliché might be a non-starter, I’d think, for a lot of pastiche readers.
The show-stoppers: There were the expected problems of the pastiche, such as anachronisms, items that suspended my suspension of disbelief or drew me out of the story. For instance, how could Holmes and Professor Moriarty (who seems to be still alive and therefore this takes place pre-hiatus/1892) know Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity before Einstein himself did (first proposed in 1905)? Holmes spouts it out to Watson as if it is common knowledge. Surely Moriarty didn't come up with it first, did he? Granted, Holmes is a genius and Moriarty studied the dynamics of an asteroid, but really? And how does the time machine seem to know when to change Holmes and Watson’s clothes to time-appropriate attire when other times it does not? These were just two nits; there were others like this.
To give the author some credit, he has very good reasons for choosing to do a book with Holmes and Watson solving Bible mysteries. You can read his reasoning here, and I understand where he's going with it. I disagreed with some of his choices, but as a pastiche writer myself that is bound to happen. Some pastiche readers are rather forgiving which is why they read pastiches. If you're willing to overlook some flaws, you may have fun with the stories Mr. Bailey cooks up.
My final thought on Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye is this: As a Bible study guide it does the job well. Buy it for the interesting problems and Bible scholarship. As a pastiche meant for a Sherlockian audience, however, it has some major flaws. If you’re not into Bible study, or you're nitpicky on accuracy and characterization, then this probably isn't your book.
But that's the thing about the world of Sherlockiana: there's something for everyone.
[Editor's note: Ann Lewis is the author of Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, published by the Wessex Press, a sponsor of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.]