Book review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock HolmesI bought this one a few months ago but only picked it up over Christmas, after seeing the new Sherlock Holmes movie: it’s a collection of fanfiction ((Actually, this is interesting. If a derivative story is written by a fan who’s also a professional author, does it cease to be fanfiction? Is fanfic defined by its amateur nature?)) short stories written by prolific authors, exploring the famous sleuth’s “improbable” cases (a reference to his famous quote).

First impression: though the blurb indicates that the tales track Holmes’s investigations in the fantastic, many of the stories are relatively mundane. But this isn’t a bad thing – by “mundane” I only mean they’re set in the “real” world that Arthur Conan Doyle himself wrote in.

But the bulk of the stories are rooted in fantasy, as Holmes and Watson ((Best. Sidekick. Ever.)) confront Lovecraftian monsters, New Orleans pirates, dinosaurs, ghosts and other beasties. There are some absolutely cracking stories here – some of my favourites included Neil Gaiman’s haunting ‘A Study in Emerald’ (which is one of the best short stories I have ever read, period); Peter Tremayne’s ‘The Specter of Tullyfane Alley’; and Naomi Novik’s ‘Commonplaces’, which isn’t even one of the supernatural ones, instead offering a remarkable take on Holmes’s and Irene “The Woman” Adler’s reunion during his Great Hiatus.

(There are several other stories that I really really really loved, but if I include them all this post will turn out very very very long.)

If you’ve burned through all Doyle’s Sherlock stories and you’re looking for something fresh, absolutely pick up a copy of Improbable Adventures. I kind of want to go off and write a Sherlock fic of my own now…

And one last thing: I liked Sherlock Holmes (the movie), but Improbable Adventures – whose stories, while not canon, are generally written in a voice akin to the one Doyle lent Watson – highlights that Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock is very unlike the real deal. Make of that what you will.