Sunday, November 16, 2014

When worlds collide.

The thing about a book of short stories that we often forget is that they don't have to be read in order.

I've been reminded of that recently, when hitting a clunker during two different collections I've been reading, and said clunker makes me lose interest in the book as a whole, as I don't really want to continue reading at the place I left off.

I won't say to whom the clunker belongs that I ran across in In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, the lawsuit-causing set edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King, but I will tell you which story restored my interest in the book: "By Any Other Name" by Michael Dirda.

Having lost my reading momentum in another tale, I scanned the list of writers involved for a fresh starting point and immediately alighted on Dirda, whom I recalled from a very lively and smart lecture I'd heard once. His tale was no less lively and smart, though I was a bit put off at the start . . . as it's a Conan Doyle story.

Now, Conan Doyle fiction has always been an odd offshoot of Sherlock Holmes's popularity. I mean, if you want to read Holmes, by all means read Holmes. Doyle was a colorful character, to be sure, but as an investigator, well, he was no Sherlock Holmes.

But Michael Dirda went right to the heart of that great thing we call Sherlockian scholarship and wrote a tale that involved Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. We all know in our hearts that Sherlock Holmes was as real a person as someone with no historical evidence can be, and that Conan Doyle is evidenced out the wazoo, so any thesis that involves a historical Holmes must somehow account for Doyle.

And in "By Any Other Name," Michael Dirda lets a scenario play out that's a lot of fun for those on either the Doyle or Watson side of the fence, if one is willing to allow for a little joyous sacrilege.

So back into In The Company of Sherlock Holmes I go, spirits brightened and hoping not to run into another show-stopping clunker. Clunker to me, of course, because if there's anything our recent Holmes explosion has taught us, it's that our tastes in that one fellow vary in the extreme. Your mileage may vary, but for now, I'm recommending the Dirda when you sidle up to that particular case of stories.

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