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Sherlock Holmes: Under Cover Reading While You’re Lying in Wait for the Movie

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Gearing up for the new Sherlock Holmes movie? Until the film makes its big-screen splash, there are plenty of quality Holmes adventures on paper to keep you occupied. And picking up a Sherlock Holmes tome doesn't necessarily mean dusting off the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sets. Several modern authors have put their own spin on the Holmes series, and their books are definitely worth checking out.

Take, for instance, Michael Chabon's slim but ambitious novel The Final Solution: A Story of Detection. Though the retired detective is never named in this novel, Chabon leaves little doubt that he's carrying on the Holmesian legend in this gripping, delicately told story. Here, a nearly-90 Sherlock Holmes (known in the book as "the old man") is drawn out of a fairly isolated retirement by a mystery surrounding a mute boy and his German-speaking parrot. The story not only draws Holmes from his dusty chair and studious beekeeping but also brings a well-known character up against some vicious modern events, as the backdrop for the mystery is the distant churning of Nazism. Chabon writes with care and respect for the character but doesn't neglect the mystery: even staunch fans of the original will find much to like here.

Another recent update takes no pains to hide its main character: the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle commissioned The Alienist author Caleb Carr to write a new Holmes mystery only a few years ago. The result was the fast-paced novel The Italian Secretary, which finds Holmes and Watson investigating a ghost story and a pair of deaths in Holyrood Palace. They're brought to the case by Holmes' brother, Mycroft, a close associate of the current Queen who is worried for her safety. As the mystery unfolds, Holmes and Watson find themselves caught in a web of secrets and old Scottish history surrounding the long-past murder of Queen Mary's Italian Secretary by her jealous husband's men.

Unlike Chabon's book, which breaks the rules of the Holmesian world by telling the story from multiple views (including that of the old man), Carr works hard to write a by-the-book Sherlock Holmes mystery, complete with record-keeping by Watson and a twisty, well-deduced ending that's nearly impossible to guess from the start. The book is thrilling and quick and would provide a good warm-up to anyone anticipating the movie.

If it's really the movie you're interested in, however, nothing short of a review of the originals will be much help. Consider starting at the beginning, with the first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — and focus in on "A Scandal in Bohemia" in particular. Its main character, Irene Adler, is famously the only woman to have ever gotten the best of Sherlock Holmes, and she's going to show up again in the movie, played by Rachel McAdams.

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About Jenn Kepka

  • And there’s much more about Irene Adler vs. Sherlock. The New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Good Night, Mr. Holmes, is newly reissued to coincide with the new Sherlock Holmes film. It’s the first Sherlockian novel to use a woman character from the stories as a protagonist, Irene Adler, the American diva and the only woman to outwit Holmes portrayed as a brilliant and bewitching rival sleuth among the Bad and Beautiful of Belle Epoch Europe and New York.

    The eight acclaimed novels feature more sleuthing skirmishes between Adler and Holmes, including The Adventuress (Monaco’s first beautiful blond American princess), A Soul of Steel (the Brits military failure in Afghanistan where Watson was wounded), Another Scandal in Bohemia (the throne at stake), the Jack the Ripper after Whitechapel duology set in Paris and Transylvania, Chapel Noir and Castle Rouge, and the NYC-set Femme Fatale and Spider Dance.

  • Jenn Kepka

    Thanks, Carole! That’s a wonderful addition.