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"towards the Triple Alliance" [NAVA] 

Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character in literature that he has been both idolized and satirized in pastiches for over a century. After author and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer paired Holmes with Sigmund Freud in 1975 in The Seven Percent Solution, Holmes and Watson have been in adventures with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Madam Curie, Count Dracula, and countless other characters, historical and fictional. To paraphrase Holmes, as unlikely as some pairings may be, some are more unlikely still. One combination that seems to be a challenge for pastiche writers has been Sherlock Holmes and Lewis Carroll (or his Wonderland creation, Alice).

"a glimpse of one or two murders" [ILLU]

In the 1995 anthology SherlockHolmes in Orbit, editors Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg included two short stories in which Holmes found himself in Carrollian territory. But as far as I can tell, it wasn’t until 1998 that the first novel appeared - SherlockHolmes and the Alice in Wonderland Murders by Barry Day. Day authored four other Holmes pastiches, and he has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Noël Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. Of the three books reviewed here, for me his was the most satisfying story, though not without some ‘trifling’ flaws. 

In October of 1898 Holmes and Watson are pitted against American yellow press publisher, John Moxton – and Holmes soon deduces that Moxton is the adopted identity of James Moriarty, who, like Holmes, did not perish at the Reichenbach Falls. He has undergone surgery and weight gain to hide his true identity as he manipulates the press and seeks power as well as revenge upon Holmes. The connection with Carroll comes with public figures who are humiliated and then murdered, with each incident having a parallel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Moxton taunts Holmes with references to AAIW and even invites Holmes and Watson to a Wonderland-themed Halloween costume party (with Watson as the Red King and even Lestrade appearing as the Walrus).

The story moves at a good pace, and Day captures Watson’s voice fairly well. For me, however, Holmes’ calling Watson “old fellow” throughout the book was irritating. Doyle used that phrase exactly five times in the Canon, and in each instance, he was not addressing Watson but was describing a ‘fellow’ who was ‘old.’ Holmes used the phrase ‘dear fellow’ or ‘my dear fellow’ and in not all of those instances was he necessarily referring to Watson. A major anachronism was the single unnecessary use of ‘sonar’ in the second chapter as Moxton hoaxed the public with the apparent appearance of ‘Nessie’ in Loch Ness.

Impressive, however, was Day’s prediction of the current state of news reporting and how a demagogue can utilize the press.  

“Moxton’s theory of the nature of truth is becoming all too credible. You read about a thing – therefore it is.
. . .
“You mean that the perception is as good as truth?”
“Better, Watson, better. Particularly if people are given the perception they would like to see.  No, I’m afraid that in the future people like our friend – with the aid of sufficient funds and the available technology – will be able to provide the so-called ‘people’ with a version of the world they would prefer to live in. And if the uncomfortable truth should occasionally leak through, well . . . twenty-four hours and another headline will conveniently cover it up again.”

Perhaps in the late 90’s Day had in mind Rupert Murdoch, but nonetheless he seems remarkably prescient given the proliferation of fake headlines and bogus news stories in the past year or two.

All in all, it was a decent 180-page read, though it did not feature Holmes interacting with Carroll who would have been 22 years his senior; presumably a meeting could have occurred in the 1880’s with Carroll consulting Holmes. Day’s book is available at Amazon.

"under some absurd illusion" [SECO]

Also available at Amazon is Ron Brackin’s 2013 SherlockHolmes: The Adventure of the Deadly Illusion.  Brackin was an investigative journalist who covered the Middle East extensively and is author of Son of Hamas.

In "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott," we explicitly learned that Holmes did attend university.  Sherlockian scholars have long debated just where Holmes spent his university years. We know that Holmes is brilliant, and therefore we deduce that he attended at least one of the two best universities in the UK, Oxford or Cambridge. A hotly contested issue, it is the reason why at Sherlockian conferences you will sometimes see for purchase tee-shirts or sweatshirts proclaiming ‘Camford University’ or ‘Oxbridge University.’ Brackin obviously comes down on the side of Oxford because The Deadly Illusion begins in September of 1872 with 18 year-old Sherlock using his observational skills and deductive reasoning to explain a magician’s stage illusion to the 40 year-old Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, then a don of Christ Church college.

Brackin blends fact with fiction throughout the book, sometimes insensibly twisting facts to suit, if not theory, then at least to suit his story line. I may be a neophyte Carrollian, but I could not find a reference to Dodgson being a devotee of illusions and magic, though he did love the stage in general. But if liberty is to be taken in furtherance of the story by having Dodgson enamored of stage magic, then so be it. It allows Holmes to display his powers of observation and logical reasoning.

A supporting character, John Nevil Maskelyne, a real magician in the 1800’s (and inventor of the pay toilet – I kid you not!) plays an important role in crafting a duplicate of a burglar’s tool which helps Holmes infiltrate a den of thieves and roughnecks. Confusing, however, was the reference to ‘The Magnificent Jasper’ performing at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly in the first chapter – Jasper Maskelyne was indeed a magician as well, but was born in 1902, the grandson of John Nevil Maskelyne. Also annoying was Holmes’ occasional calling of Dodgson “old fellow” or “old man.”  Aside from my personal annoyance as expressed previously, I have my doubts that an 18 year old student, even Holmes, would address a don of Oxford as “old man,” especially considering its colloquial British slang meaning.

Brackin continues to intermingle fact and fiction when a butler is murdered during the commission of a burglary - jewels are stolen from the home of (fictional) Sir Arthur Bellingham who is noted as a member of the (real) Reform Club. A Scotland Yard inspector draws the wrong conclusions from the evidence at the scene but Holmes sees and observes what actually occurred. The (real) Jules Verne makes a cameo appearance along with (fictional) Phineas Fogg. Verne’s (fictional) bank robber James Strand (from Around the World in 80 Days) becomes a central figure, and he happens to have been a partner in crime with Michael Moriarty, the father of three brothers, all named James, one of whom wrote a celebrated monograph on “The Dynamics of an Asteroid” familiar to mathematician Dodgson. A brief mention is made of Dodgson’s real passion for photography (though a typographical error turned ‘pyrogallic acid’ to ‘hyrogallic’) with a photographic session with (real) Alexandra ‘Xie’ Kitchin. Holmes’ skill at ‘baritsu’ helped him capture a criminal despite the fact that ‘bartitsu’ was not developed by Edward William Barton-Wright until 1898.

The narrative does not flow as smoothly in Deadly Illusion as it did in the Alice in Wonderland Murders due to the author’s sometimes forced insertion of factual material in an ambitious effort to bolster the Victorian atmosphere. However, to his credit, Brackin does manage to introduce Holmes to Dodgson in a timeline which could have happened (in the loosest meaning of the word ‘could’) and the plot line, while not worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle, does make sense. Holmes solves his second case showing his deductive skills before moving to lodgings in Montague Street and eventually Baker Street.

"I could have laughed when I realized it was the cat" [CHAS]

A blended reality is left behind as we venture into Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Grinning Cat by Joseph Svec. We find Sherlock Holmes at the height of his career in February 1898, searching for Lewis Carroll and Alice—both of whom have mysteriously disappeared! The first clue might be that date—nearly one month after the death of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.  Holmes is asked to investigate the disappearances by none other than the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Hatter.  The game is certainly afoot - a rabbit’s foot!

The story is set initially in the Victorian world of Holmes and his chronicler, John H. Watson. It begins, as do many Holmesian pastiches, with a note to the reader followed by a “recently rediscovered” explanatory note from Dr. Watson which informs the reader that publication must not take place for at least twenty-five years in order to protect his and Holmes’s reputations, due to the “fantastical,” “amazing,” and “utterly different” nature of the story.

We know by the second page of Chapter One that we have left the well-known, if imaginary, sitting room of 221B Baker Street when the unexpected Cheshire Cat speaks to Holmes and Watson, and Holmes soon realizes that Watson is not using ventriloquism to fool him. After several hours of silent deliberation, Holmes concludes that a talking / dematerializing cat is, after all, not impossible, just highly improbable, and he is ready to be of service.

The author pays homage to both Holmes and Carroll, dropping phrases and paraphrases that knowledgeable Sherlockians and Carrollians will recognize. It is a fantastic journey from Baker Street to the home of the recently deceased Dodgson in Guildford, to a visit with H.G. Wells, and a trip to Mars using his Time Machine. Then it’s back to London, followed by Wonderland, back to Baker Street, and even to an ethereal and unearthly 'river of time.' The author has much fun with wordplay and puns when the group is in Wonderland. We meet the Bandersnatch, the Unicorn, the Red Queen, and other Wonderland characters throughout the adventure.

In the Acknowledgments, the author states that he is a newcomer to the Holmes stories, only recently having been introduced to them. Perhaps he can be forgiven for not paying more attention to the Holmes–Watson relationship and for focusing only on Holmes as a logician. He calls Carroll (who was also a logician) a “logistician,” a term primarily meaning someone knowledgeable in logistics—though it is also a synonym for “logician.” Unfortunately Carroll seems disrespected, as his name is misspelled twice in the same chapter, the Gryphon is referred to as “Griffon” (technically correct but not the preferred or Carroll’s spelling; a griffon is actually an Old World vulture, not to be confused with “griffin,” a wire-haired pointing dog from Belgium), and the Jabberwock (a major player in the story) is mis-named “Jabberwocky.”

I may be overly critical, but the book has numerous spelling, typographical, and typesetting errors; idiosyncratic and inconsistent capitalizations and bold-faced words, and not-quite-right references.  Much of the blame for these may rest with the publisher’s proofreader. As Watson narrates, we get some sense of his thoughts, and this fleshes him out as a character. But Holmes functions only as the perfect logician throughout: to call his portrayal one-dimensional is to imply more depth than is evident. As a Carrollian and Sherlockian I wanted to love this book, but I came away disappointed.  As they say, “your mileage will vary,” and a hardcore Carrollian may gain much enjoyment reading about the playful interactions of the Wonderland characters in Watson’s narration.

Nicholas Meyer set a high bar when he introduced Holmes to Freud. To be truly successful, a pastiche author must capture Watson’s voice and style, must respect the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and of course must show Holmes’ deductive abilities in unraveling a puzzling mystery. In the past few years, several authors (my favorites - David Stuart Davies, Lyndsay Faye and Bonnie MacBird) have shown their writing skills to meet this standard, and their detailed knowledge of Holmes and Victorian England help re-create a world “where it is always 1895.” Add Lewis Carroll or more fantastically, Alice in Wonderland, to the narrative and the task more than doubles in difficulty. I look forward to another attempt.