Longtime Jade Sphinx readers know of our weakness for all things Christmas and all things Sherlock Holmes. Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle combined the two himself with his wonderful story of a Christmas goose and valuable gem, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. So what could be better than various authors collaborating on a volume of Sherlock Holmes Christmas tales?
Well … I’m sure that was the idea, but sadly the execution is often wanting. Holmes For the Holidays is yet one of many collections of stories continuing the career of Mr. Sherlock Holmes long after the death of Doyle. As is often the case with such anthologies, some entries are markedly better than others. This book contains stories by such celebrated authors as Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008), William L. DeAndrea (1952-1996), Loren D. Estleman (born 1952) and Jon L. Breen. It is a pleasant enough time-waster, but one wishes that the ratio of good stories was a little higher than five out of 14. In addition, the fact that two stories flirted with pedophilia, and an additional two included descendants of Ebenezer Scrooge, indicated to this reader that three editors meant none of them were actually reading the tales prior to publication.
The cream of the crop included “The Adventure of the Canine Ventriloquist” by Breen. In it a long-winded professional writer (paid by the word) is the victim of a Christmas haunting. Holmes and Watson are both shown to good effect, and Holmes’ disdain for the supernatural world well portrayed.
The late William L. DeAndrea’s “The Adventure of the Christmas Tree” is excellent, and easily the jewel of the collection. In it, Holmes must determine why someone would steal a nobleman’s Christmas tree, only to return it. Though the story felt more like a thriller – fairly reminiscent in tenor and tone to the author’s wonderful novel, The Lunatic Fringe – it still managed to distill a distinct Holmesian flavor.
Estleman, who in previous novels paired Holmes with Count Dracula, here has the Master Detective consult with a now-adult Tim Cratchit in “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts.” Tim, now Lord Chislehurst, acquired Scrooge’s firm long ago, and saved it from the brink of financial ruin. Now he too is visited by Christmas ghosts just as he is about to indulge in a little corporate downsizing. (The more things change….) It is all a little too pat, but, for all of that, quite amusing.
Gwen Moffat (born 1924) provides the most disturbing story in the collection with “The Adventure in the Border Country.” Here, Holmes and Watson investigate a missing husband, only to find that some crimes are more terrible than others.
Hoch – simply the most indefatigable short-story writer in the mystery field – delivers the delicious “The Christmas Client,” in which Prof. Moriarty is blackmailing Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) over some artistic pictures the Reverend made of underage children. (The more things change….)
Though certainly not everyone cup of holiday cheer, Holmes For the Holidays is a diverting read for undemanding mystery buffs during the holiday season.