Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot (Book Review)

Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot

edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Jonathan Maberry
Diversion Books (April 24 2018)
270 p. ISBN 978-1635763775

Publisher’s Summary

Thirteen authors, including Narrelle M. Harris, Jody Lynn Nye, and Sarah Stegall, come together in the second edition of Baker Street Irregulars to pen an original collection of short stories on the iconic and timeless character, Sherlock Holmes. 

In this new edition of Baker Street Irregulars, a cast of authors riff on the iconic figure of Sherlock Holmes in over a dozen captivating new ways. In Keith DeCandido’s “Six Red Dragons,” Sherlock is a young girl in modern New York City. In Sarah Stegall’s “Papyrus,” Sherlock is a female librarian in ancient Egypt. In Daniel M. Kimmel’s mesmerizing “A Scandal in Chelm,” Sherlock is a rabbi. Derek Beebe sends Sherlock to the moon, while Mike Strauss, in “The Adventure of the Double Sized Final Issue,” casts him as a comic book character. The backdrops run the gamut from a grade school classroom to Jupiter, from rural, post-Civil War to an alien spaceship. While preserving the timeless charm and intrigue of Sherlock Holmes, these authors pen stories of the world’s greatest detective as you’ve never seen him before.

General Review

The Baker Street Irregulars: The Game’s Afoot is the second Holmesian anthology that Michael A. Ventrella and Jonathan Maberry have edited, the first being The Baker Street Irregulars.  In both volumes, authors write stories about Holmes and Watson reimagined, whether in a different time, a different gender, a different species, etc.  It isn’t a new concept, as far as anthologies go; some may remember the anthology Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by Guy Adams and David Thomas Moore, which came out in 2014.

Anthologies are always a bit tricky, because inevitably there are a few weaker stories amongst the strong ones—presuming there are strong ones at all, which is not always a guarantee.  Happily, this anthology contains a number of stories that I felt were exceptionally strong, and a few that I desperately wish were much longer.  I wouldn’t rate any of the stories as complete duds, though there were one or two that I didn’t enjoy as much.

Before I give certain stories individual reviews, I would like to point out one flaw with this anthology that rankled as I read: the lack of diversity amongst the authors.  Although I cannot say for certain, it appeared that all the authors in this anthology were white, something I find disappointing to encounter.  Given that the anthology was made up of a wide range of authorial backgrounds (none are traditional Holmesian pastiche authors, for instance), I wouldn’t have thought it terribly difficult to ensure that authors of color were included.  I truly hope that as more Holmesian anthologies are put together, a stronger effort will be put into making sure a diverse range of identities are represented.

Now for a few thoughts on individual stories…

One of my favourites in the anthology was “The Adventure of the Diode Detective,” written by Jody Lynn Nye.  In this story, Holmes and Watson are… wait for it… apps.  Sure-Lock Homes is a security app.  What’s-On? is a social app, combining ideas like Netflix, MeetUp, and Facebook into one place.  When I read the premise to my husband, he raised an eyebrow and said “yeah, how is that going to work?” which was my thought as well- and yet it did.  Not only was the entire thing witty and clever, it was also incredibly well-plotted.  It was nicely paced, with a true arc to the story.  My husband ended up reading over my shoulder, which (as a non-Holmesian) never happens.  I LOVED this story.  I thought the author did a magnificent job in capturing the personalities of Holmes and Watson as apps (they are, in case you are wondering, very AI-driven, which helps), showing how concerned they are for their owner and how far they’ll go to protect her.  And of course, the ending is one that any Watsonian will love.

I also thoroughly enjoyed “Papyrus” by Sarah Stegell.  In this story, which takes place in ancient Egypt, Holmes is Seshet, the Royal Librarian, and Watson is Raneb, who is a First Rank physician from the Black Land, on a mission to save his home from given to a different Temple.  While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the setting (my gut says that historical details were fudged for the sake of adventure), it was an engaging story, with court politics and a nicely crafted mystery surrounding a land deed.  I would love to see an entire novel, or even series, crafted from this short story, as Seshet and Raneb made an excellent team, with phenomenal chemistry.  Raneb is instantly fascinated by Seshet, and dives into her world with only the slightest of hesitations.  I want to see their partnership grow, and more of how a Holmes and Watson would navigate Egypt in the time of pharaohs.

I appreciated Hildy Silverman’s “My Dear Wa’ats” in which Holmes and Watson are aliens; She’er is the Captain of a spaceship, after having served in law enforcement, where their spouse, Wa’ats, still works.  They meet again when Wa’ats boards She’er’s vessel, searching for the criminal Mori.  The author manages to pack in a lot of worldbuilding in a very small story, but never did I feel like I was just being given an infodump on the world; instead, it felt organic, information flowing naturally as characters reflected on it.  The conflict in this story is as much personal as it is about the crime, but the crime and, specifically, the criminal, is SO fascinating.  There were some weak moments in this story, largely regarding gender role assumptions and some occasionally sloppy editing, but I would love to see an entire series set in this world, with She’er and Wa’ats.

My final favourite of the anthology was Gordon Linzner’s “Sin-Eater and the Adventure of Ginger Mary.”  Darker in tone than many of the other stories, Linzner’s tale takes place in Appalachia, post-Civil War.  Our Watson is Salali, a Native American woman (as a note: I have no knowledge on Linzner’s background, nor if this story was looked over by someone who is Native; I cannot speak on whether or not Salali and her husband Dagatoga are decent representation) while our Holmes is Cavish, the town outcast and, secretly, sin eater.  The mystery revolves around the death of a child, originally presumed a suicide and discovered to be a murder.  It is a mournful, haunting little story, one that manages to encompass a full investigation (excellently done) while also showing us the give-and-pull of Salali and Cavish’s odd, but deep, friendship.

Though these four stories were my favourites, there were certainly other ones that were well-written and others may prefer.  Some notables include “A Very Important Nobody” by Chuck Regan (in which Holmes is named Theramin Joules!); “The Problem of Three Journals” by Narrelle M. Harris (in which Holmes and Watson are hipster baristas); and “The Affair of the Green Crayon” (in which Holmes and Watson teach elementary school).

Overall, I did not regret reading this anthology, something I cannot always say.  There were certainly a few weaker stories, but I didn’t feel like any of them were bad, and none of them made me throw my Nook across the room in irritation.  And some of these stories were so excellent that I secretly hope the authors fell in love with their premises so that they can expand the story into a full length novel.  Until then, I suppose I’ll just have to get my own copy of this book (mine is an ARC, provided by NetGalley) and keep reading the short versions.

What About Our Watson?

There are thirteen stories in this anthology and, as such, thirteen different takes on Watson.  I had one earlier caveat, about the lack of racial diversity amongst the authors, and here is my second caveat for this anthology: if you want to read about new and fascinating Watsons, you may be a bit stymied.  While there were many, many intriguing Watsons, much of the world building really took place around the Holmes, with Watson being a bit of an afterthought.  There were some exceptions.  Two of my favourite stories, “My Dear Wa’ats” and “Sin-Eater and the Adventure of Ginger Mary” each had a Watson with their own internal life, their own hopes and dreams, their own ambitions.  Another Watson that came across as having a life of their own was our Watson in “A Study in Space”.  But because the authors were all having to create and explain a whole new Holmesian setting, our Watsons were largely relegated to being narrators, with occasional personal snippets thrown in.

I don’t necessarily think this is true failure; certainly, Watson in canon tells us all of three paragraphs about himself before he starts delving into how cool his new roommate is.  But when one has a canon knowledge of Watson, it can be a bit of a shock to go back to STUD again and again and again in terms of characterization.

This is another reason I’d like to see some of these authors expand their stories.  I think several of them have a really good grasp on what a Watson can be, but were restricted by page/word limits.  It would be lovely to see their characters return, perhaps in a future anthology.  My understanding is that one author, Keith R.A. DeCandido, actually did this in the anthology; his characters Jack Watson and Shirley Holmes are actually continued over from his story “Identity”, which appeared in the first anthology by Maberry and Ventrella.  It would be great to see some of these authors do the same, whether by writing more short stories for this anthology series, or striking out on their own.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Short stories; science fiction; intriguing world building; something new

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