“I Trust That You Don’t Consider Your Collection Closed?”: Review of Robert Perret’s DEAD RINGERS

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.

“I May Need Some of These Dates Which You Have Noted”: Next Meeting Moved to June 20

Our virtual meeting to discuss “The Priory School,” originally scheduled for June 13, has been moved to June 20 so as not to conflict with SOS At Home. Please see our Events page or Facebook for further details.

Like Maudie, “I will be there you may be sure” (“The Lion’s Mane”).

“You Scintillate Today!”: Register for Free Virtual Scintillation of Scions XIII

Bring fellow Sherlockians into your dreary lockdown! A Scintillation of Scions, the annual literary symposium sponsored by Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, has announced SOS At Home, a virtual version of this year’s event.

The symposium will take place over Zoom on Saturday, June 13, 2020, at 12 noon ET (that’s—*gulp*—9 am for us Left Coasters). It is free, but you must register at the SOS website.

Scheduled Events

  • Talks by Ray Betzner, Ashley Polasek, Steve Mason, Julie McKuras,Howard Ostrom, Daniel Stashower, and Dana Richards
  • Some sort of version of the running of the Silver Blaze (Southern Division)
  • A screening of the 1976 comedy-mystery The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective, featuring Larry Hagman (!) as Sherman Holmes—an L.A. cop who falls off his motorcycle, strikes his head, and wakes up believing he’s Sherlock Holmes—with Jenny O’Hara as his social worker, Dr. Joan Watson. (We wouldn’t miss this obscure non-classic for the world!)

The organizers are also working on interactive options for attendees, including a Zoom conference room. Any questions? Email the organizers at scintillation.of.scions@outlook.com

While you’re registering, be sure to check out the Swag Shop or consider a donation to help defray the cost of the event. Your Gazetteer is wavering between these two shirts:

An enthusiastic “Halloa!” goes out to the folks at Scintillation of Scions who are volunteering their efforts to help us celebrate our love of Holmes and Watson despite the pandemic. Let us come Together Apart.

See you all on June 13th!

“I Confess that I Covet Your Skull”: Get Gruesome with a Virtual Tour of the Mütter Museum

Tired of scrolling through Netflix? Unable to stomach the internet’s endless torrent of bad news? How about a virtual tour of a medical museum?

The video below is from the Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Highlights include the Giant Megacolon, Albert Einstein’s brain, and—of interest to numerous Canonical characters—the Hyrtl Skull Collection. (No corpses being beaten, I’m afraid.)

Don’t forget your calipers!

Stay well, stay safe, stay sane, stay home!

Victorian England 101, Lesson 2: The Gentry and Lesser Folk

In Lesson 1, we learned about the titled; in this lesson, we’ll discuss gentlefolk and the middle class.

A Private View at the Royal Academy, William Powell Frith, 1881

While the largest division in English society was between the nobility and the commoners, the latter maintained many important distinctions of rank. Below the nobles and other distinguished landholders were the gentry—squires, clergy, baronets, and knights—whose income traditionally came from the tenants on their land. Then came professionals such as bishops and barristers, followed by independent landholders and bankers. Below them were the lesser tradesmen and artisans, followed by the working poor and farm laborers.

The 19th century saw this ancient order shaken up. The industrial revolution created new sources of wealth that could compete with land. No matter how wealthy a man was, though, to be accepted into society he had to own a country estate; land remained the key to status. (A character in Jane Austen’s Persuasion says, “You misled me by the term gentleman. I thought you were speaking of some man of property.”) And “new money” would never be as well regarded as old wealth; in Britain, the term “self-made man” kept its disparaging tone well into the 20th century, in contrast to its connotations in the United States.

Societal changes also raised the stature of the professions: For example, doctors such as Watson acquired some genuine scientific training (even if they continued to treat nearly everything with brandy). This new class of professionals began to insist on social acceptance. The middle class grew in size and importance, its members working in banks and counting houses and government bureaucracies.

Increasingly, the status of a commoner was what he could make it. He might convince people to treat him as a solid member of the middle class, or even as a gentleman. That involved mastering the proper social rituals and speech patterns, as well as spending like the class you aspired to. It also meant avoiding anything that smacked of manual labor; to quote Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, “the resolute display of a hopeless inability to do anything oneself became increasingly the distinguishing mark of a lady or gentleman as the century wore on.” Which, of course, meant that one needed servants.

Any household with pretensions to middle-class status—such as the home of Dr. and Mrs. Watson—had at least one housemaid or maid-of-all-work. Climbing to the highest ranks demanded an even larger staff, which sometimes provided opportunities for a clever consulting detective, as in “Charles Augustus Milverton.” What with the impressive house, the staff, and the necessary free spending, becoming and staying a gentleman was immensely expensive. On top of that, to be in the gentry one had to have a carriage; though the vehicle itself wasn’t prohibitively costly, maintaining the needed horses (which had to be fed and stabled), coachman, outriders, and groom required an astronomical amount of money.

Being a gentleman or a lady meant not having to earn one’s living. Those who were “in trade,” no matter how wealthy or accomplished, were never accepted by the ton. Distinctions had to be maintained. For example, a barrister’s wife could be presented at court, but a solicitor’s could not; a solicitor, you see, took fees directly, while a barrister acted as a consultant and was engaged and paid by the solicitor, not the client. (There were, of course, other differencess between the two types of attorney, such as education.) Because of this bias against earning money, doctors rarely rose to the peerage; for all his middle-class accoutrements, John H. Watson was still regarded as a tradesman.

Given the depressing state of the world as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, we’ll save discussing the working class and the type of grim poverty that gave us the adjective Dickensian—not to mention those beloved “street urchins” who made up the Baker Street Irregulars—for some future date.