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"absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured" [BLUE]

Illustration by Karen Gosselin

After an admittedly trying year, many Sherlockians deserve multiple moments of delight, charm, and warmth during the holiday season. Thankfully, Belanger Books' new collection A Three-Pipe Christmas is the perfect holiday tome. Mixing Sherlockian canon, scholarship, and pastiche, this book provides an exceptional, enjoyable read for Sherlockians of all persuasions.

A Three-Pipe Christmas begins with "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", which leads into a trilogy of essays that provide Sherlockian insights into the context of the story. Julie McKuras, BSI ("The Duchess of Devonshire") in her essay "The Season of Forgiveness" and Monica M. Schmidt, BSI ("Julia Stoner") in her "A Most Difficult Time of the Year" highlight how the story reflects much of the joy and the melancholy of the holiday. As someone introduced to Holmes in his youth, I found the musings of Shannon Carlisle, BSI ("Beacons of the Future!") on introducing Holmes to her fourth-grade students in "A Brilliant Tale for the Youngest Sherlockians" especially touching and insightful.

"Leaving Breckenridge" by Strand artist Jeffrey McKeever

Our next selection is "The Unique Hamlet" by Vincent Starrett, a tale that celebrates its centennial this year. As a first-time reader of this particular pastiche, I found it quite enjoyable for its sly sense of humor as well as its prose styling. (Or as one commenter states, the story's tone is "more Lewis Carroll than Conan Doyle," and that is to its credit). With its focus on book collecting and literature, "The Unique Hamlet" has more than earned its reputation as a high-end pastiche.

The essays that follow provide insight into the history of "The Unique Hamlet" describe its importance in written Sherlockian pastiche. The late Susan Rice, BSI ("Beeswing") describes it in her essay as the "gold standard" in its balance of humor and style. Dan Andricaco (who edited The Three Pipe Christmas) also discusses how Vincent Starrett deftly balances pastiche, parody, and satire in writing "The Unique Hamlet." In the final related essay, Randall Stock, BSI ("South African Securities") highlights how a story that satirizes literature and book collecting morphs into a moment when "satire becomes pastiche."

Illustration by Brian Belanger

The final story is "The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians" by August Derleth, featuring the detective Solar Pons and Dr. Parker. Although Solar Pons is inspired by Sherlock Holmes (and "The Unique Dickenseians" lifts some tone and spirit from "The Unique Hamlet), calling Pons a pastiche of Holmes would not be entirely accurate. As the Pons-oriented essays by David Marcum PSI, Bob Byrne PSI, Roger Johnson, BSI ("Shinwell Johnson"), and Derrick Belanger, PSI attest, Sherlockians may find much to enjoy about exploring the Holmes-inspired yet modern-spirit tales of Solar Pons. 

With its illustrations by Karen Gosselin providing a Strand Magazine-like feel, The Three Pipe Christmas serves both as an excellent introduction to Sherlockian thought as well as the ideal gift for a long-term student of the canon. With proceeds benefitting the R. Joel Senter Sr. Memorial Essay Contest, The Three Pipe Christmas also provides an opportunity to foster the holiday spirit of giving.

The Three Pipe Christmas is an absolutely unique volume of Sherlockian storytelling and scholarship and is highly recommended.