Cover of "Encounters of Sherlock Holmes", an anthology edited by George Mann.

Cover of “Encounters of Sherlock Holmes”, an anthology edited by George Mann.

Imagine 221B Baker Street transplanted into the worlds of H.G. Wells or Mary Shelley. If you’ve ever wondered how Sherlock Holmes would fare if his world collided with genre fiction of his time, then this book will surely entertain. If that type of imagining is not to your taste, there are still plenty of plain old detective stories to enjoy here as well.

The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes is an anthology put together by anthologist George Mann, and features new stories and mysteries featuring the famous detective. As a twist, Mann (who also contributed a story) includes both traditional tales of Holmes (though not always in the voice of Doyle) and non-traditional tales.

The reader will find works by the likes of James Lovegrove, Doctor Who’s Justin Richards, and steampunk author, Mark Hodder. Fans of the featured genre authors will likely thrill to read these new takes on Sherlock Holmes—many not as the fans might expect from their favorite authors. Others may enjoy the new twists on their old favorite. For example, “The Pennyroyal Society” by Kelly Hale, a story full of political insurgency more in common with Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” than Doyle’s own world.

Unfortunately, an anthology is only as good as its whole, usually par for the course with anthologies, and not every story in this anthology held up the others. In this case I would lay the blame on the genre stories. The traditional stories were simply stronger than the genre stories because they focused on solving mysteries. Story time wasn’t spent on establishing a new non-Holmesian setting with entirely new main characters which hampered many other stories.

There also seemed to be an aversion to letting the stories be about Sherlock Holmes, making me wonder if the anthology should have been named Encounters of John Watson & Friends. I felt several stories were marred by the authors’ penchants for staging their own creations as the main characters. Sherlock was often a side character in these tales. There isn’t a lot of room for setting and character development in short stories. When that valuable narrative real-estate is given to fantastical elements, or in many of the cases, new main characters that upstaged our cerebral sleuth, the story was no longer a Sherlock Holmes story.

I wondered if the genre shifts were so far afield from classic Holmes that he no longer fit in the stories. As for all the new main characters, the effect was akin to reading fanfic. There was also the tendency of the authors to interject modern sensibilities into the Holmes universe. Watson was often the target of progressive wrath against the mores of the time. Story elements featuring ancient gay literature, Victorian birth control struggles, and alien tentacle sex (off page) in cat houses also felt off the mark for me.

Fortunately, a good portion of the stories included in this volume didn’t forget what Sherlock Holmes was famous for: solving mysteries. In fact, any story that focused on mystery over genre generally succeeded, and some that started astray got back on track as soon as Holmes was on the scene to expose the criminals. There were also a lot of very well written stories to enjoy. I’ve already mentioned Kelly Hale’s piece, which was one of the ones that started astray in my opinion, but it tied up intriguingly, all thanks to the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes and the narrative skill of Hale. Stories by Mags L Halliday, Stuart Douglas, and Steve Lockley also stood out as good mysteries that were written skillfully.

Experimenting in the world of Holmes must have been a fun assignment for the authors. If you are a Holmes fan and are looking for something a little different, Encounters of Sherlock Holmes has a lot to offer. The more traditional tales provide solid mysteries with the classic Holmes/Watson dynamic, and the fanciful tales offer you a “What If” peek into a Holmes world that never was.

Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.

Release Date: February 19, 2013 (USA)
ISBNs: 1781160031 (9781781160039)
Publisher: Titan Books

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 70%

Content:

Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (social drinking, morphine/cocaine offered, mentions of Sherlock’s drug habit)
Language: 1 (a few minor expletives and deity)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 1 (mentions of Martian prostitution, mention of rape as a crime)
Violence: 3 (murder abounded in this volume, action and assaults)