Exit Sherlock Holmes/I, Sherlock Holmes

by Robert L. Hall
Scribner’s, $7.95
by Michael Harrison
Dutton, $12.50
James Watson, M.D., in chronicling the adventures of his friend Sherlock Holmes, left hints and loose ends sufficient to seed acres of explicatory texts and “hitherto unpublished manuscripts.” These two latest additions to that saprophytic literature should provide great pleasure to devotees while provoking debate, if not outrage, among more serious Sherlockian scholars.
Exit Sherlock Holmes, Robert Hall’s first novel, is a retrospective account from Watson’s hospital bed of Holmes’s last great confrontation with the archcriminal Moriarty. The detective disappears from London; in trying to find him, Watson discovers that Holmes has repeatedly—inexplicably—deceived him. Wiggins, the street-wise lieutenant of the Baker Street Irregulars, now an actor and a dandy, becomes Watson’s engaging confederate in an effort to help the missing Holmes despite his seeming falsity. In the end, of course, Watson finds that his trust and loyalty were not misplaced when he learns the astonishing secret behind Holmes’s magnificent mind, his skill as an actor, and his ultimately successful struggle against Moriarty. Hall’s drama is inventive, thoroughly absorbing, and true to the voice of Dr. Watson; his resolution is utterly un-Victorian — in Holmes’s own words, “too strange for . . . any man of this century.”
Michael Harrison, the author of five other books concerning Holmes, including In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, has made public the first volume of Holmes’s memoirs, which, he claims, were turned over to him in 1975 after a sixty-year moratorium in the British Museum. I, Sherlock Holmes is an artful interweaving of fact and fiction, essentially a social and political history of late Victorian England in which Holmes, sarcastic but discreet, is as often observer and commentator as he is participant in the scandals and intrigue that characterized his times. He suppresses a salacious lithograph of Queen Victoria, clears the name of the Crown Prince of Sweden, and, at the behest of William Vanderbilt, solves the grave-robbing of two eminent corpses. But we also see Holmes the scientist, experimenting with tattoos on a malodorous fore-quarter of pork in his Baker Street rooms; and Holmes the master of disguise, roaming London as Mrs. Salubria Hempseed, sidewalk evangelist, or as Captain Marmaduke Dacre-Buttsworth, gay blade of the Pelican Club.
Harrison’s novel is as rich in detail as a Victorian parlor, cerebral, amusing, and occasionally iconoclastic. Hall’s is exciting, straightforward, and in the end, sentimental. Both are great fun to read.
—Martha Spaulding