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Big Book of SherlockThe Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories
Edited by Otto Penzler
(Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard, $25)

Special Contributor
Published: 19 December 2015 08:18 AM

Almost from his first appearance in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes inspired readers to try writing new adventures for him.

Some of these efforts were pastiches, faux Sherlockian tales written in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s energetic storytelling style. Others were parodies that played Holmes and his faithful partner, Dr. John H. Watson, for in-jokey laughs.

New York mystery bookseller and editor Otto Penzler, 73, is arguably the greatest mystery anthologist working, with more than 50 collections to his credit. No mystery fan’s library is complete without his 1977 Edgar Award winner, The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. Until now, however, Penzler had never compiled a collection of Sherlock Holmes-related tales.

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (and at 780 pages, it really is big) required Penzler to sort through more than a century’s worth of the best Sherlockian fan fiction and winnow it down to 83 pieces. Since Holmes’ fans are legion, the number of tales paying tribute to him — originally scattered through a dozen decades of vintage magazines, obscure chapbooks and previous story collections — must now be in the hundreds, if not the thousands. That’s amazing, considering that the Canon, as Doyle’s Sherlock output is reverently known, consists only of the four original Holmes novels and 56 short stories.

The Big Book brings together stories from Sherlock-addicted writers from Britain, the U.S. and even Russia, including many who are not primarily known as mystery writers. The anthology includes names as famous and diverse as Kingsley Amis, Poul Anderson, J.M. Barrie, Anthony Burgess, Neil Gaiman, O. Henry, Laurie R. King, A.A. Milne, Anne Perry, Carolyn Wells and P.G. Wodehouse.

I was particularly intrigued by “The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted,” rumored to be a long-lost Sherlock Holmes story when it turned up in a box of Doyle family documents in the early 1940s. But, although Cosmopolitan magazine published the story in 1948 under Doyle’s name and with much hoopla, even his children were unsure of its provenance.

The true author finally was revealed to be Arthur Whitaker, an obscure British architect who had written the story and sent it to Doyle in 1911, hoping that it might be published as a collaborative effort. Doyle declined, sent Whitaker a check for 10 guineas and then stashed the manuscript away, unaware that he was setting up a literary whodunit that would not be solved for almost 40 years.

Penzler includes a couple of short pieces by Doyle: “The Field Bazaar,” written for a University of Edinburgh fundraiser in 1896, and “How Watson Learned the Trick,” a 503-word story created for the miniature library in Queen Mary’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle. You won’t, however, find Doyle’s extracanonical tales “The Lost Special” and “The Man With the Watches” in this volume, perhaps because the detective in those stories is never named — although he sounds very much like Holmes.

Penzler took great care in selecting The Big Book’s Sherlockian pastiches, making sure that his choices were extremely well-written and clever enough that they might have come from Doyle’s own hand. Many of the best ones are here, including Vincent Starrett’s “The Unique Hamlet,” David Stuart Davies’ “The Darlington Substitution Scandal,” Barry Day’s “The Case of the Curious Canary” and Stephen King’s “The Doctor’s Case.”

It is heartening to peruse The Big Book and see so many modern mystery writers — including Texas’ own Bill Crider — proving to be adept at the art of Sherlockian pastiche. It is not as easy as one might think to imitate Doyle’s style and to do it well; he too often is imitated very badly indeed.

But from 85-year-old Colin Dexter to 35-year-old Lyndsay Faye, these mystery writers have learned the trick. Sherlock-loving readers everywhere can sink happily into The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories and let themselves believe, just for a few hours, that a brand-new game is afoot.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a freelance writer in Dallas. She has been a Sherlock Holmes fan ever since she read “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” at the age of 10.