Dead Ringers, by Robert Perret
MX Publishing, 2019
Reviewed by Barbie Moreland
This is a series of short stories surrounding the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. It spans a large amount of time, from when Sherlock was just out of college to his later years, when he is in his 70’s. While most of the stories follow the tradition of using Dr. Watson’s point of view, a few vary the formula, written from Sherlock’s perspective, in the third person, and even from the POV of Jefferson Hope of A Study in Scarlet. Through their prose and description, many of the stories will thrill a Sherlockian with a feeling of nostalgia, while some will challenge the reader to accept other aspects of the characters’ lives and personalities, as well as the possibility of a less-than-ideal ending.
One unique aspect of this collection is the more significant and varied roles in which we find women, often highlighted as something other than distressed damsels in need of rescuing. Some of the stories do follow the traditional route of having the women be victims in need of help from the famous detective. However, in a couple of instances the women are antagonists and, indeed, perpetrate some of the more vicious crimes. Most interesting, however, is a story that blends womanly strength with the need of rescue: In “The Adventure of the Gnarled Beeches,” we find ourselves once again in the company of Miss Violet Hunter. (The reader will surely remember her from “The Copper Beeches” as the governess who was used as a lookalike stand-in to dissuade a suitor from pursuing the young lady of the household.) It seems that Miss Hunter, who has built upon her own strength and resolve, is not yet finished with the house of Rucastle. Ultimately, it is difficult to tell how much of the rescuing is done by Sherlock and how much is accomplished by the lady herself.
Another story gives a nod to the real-life dichotomy between Holmes and his maker, Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Tablet” has Holmes squaring off with a man who claims to be a professor of ancient magic and able to invoke the powers of Ra-Atet. While Holmes is a logical machine who does not believe in any aspect of mysticism, Conan Doyle often indulged in illusions and truly believed in the magic the practitioners of the spiritual arts claimed to possess.
In this reviewer’s opinion, there are only two stories in the collection that are problematic, or simply difficult to accept. As mentioned earlier, this collection takes the liberty of expanding the personalities of many of the original characters, which can be very gratifying. However, in ”Sherlock Holmes and the Sharpshooter,” Watson acts significantly out of character. He flip-flops from a creepy stalker and shameless flirt to the overly chivalrous sidekick we know and love. He openly speaks of admiring a woman’s form, while the Watson of old would blush to the tips of his ears even thinking about it. Sherlock is his usual self, but Watson seems a different person entirely.
The other troublesome story is the final one, “For King and Country.” It is both enjoyable and disturbing, challenging any preconceived notions of a “happy ending.” In the original Canon, each story sees Watson and Holmes, having neatly wrapped up a case, sitting around the fire enjoying brandy and a cigar. This story, however, leaves ends untied and issues unresolved. The most disturbing aspect to this reviewer is that Mycroft ultimately becomes a traitor to his country and gets away with it. Mycroft has, in the past, unashamedly used Sherlock and Watson to accomplish goals on behalf of the realm, but those occasions were a far cry from his actions in this story. While I understand that Mycroft has suffered a significant change, this seems too strong even for him. Conan Doyle always hinted at a deep bond between the two brothers despite their differences. It is hard to stomach Mycroft’s betrayal, and this story lacks the neat, tidy ending that is typical of the classic cases.
Despite these personal judgments, the tale is well-written and spans several years without being overlong. The short scenes that skip through the years give the story depth while avoiding tedium. Overall, this collection was great fun to read! I appreciated the various liberties the author took with familiar personalities and the blend of old and new characters. The varied roles of women, the differing points of view, and the assorted timelines provide a very appealing richness. I would not hesitate to add this book to my collection of Holmes stories.