Saturday, December 9, 2017

The criminal mastermind who stayed on Baker Street.

As I've written here before, I don't like to review books in my blog as I have been at this far too long. Forty years as an active Sherlockian will make you a little jaded in some areas. Personally I have long felt, similarly, that movie reviewers lose their skills at some point, because they can never appreciate a given movie like someone who doesn't see a hundred movies a year and wind up reviewing it for other reviewers. You can make good points, but there's a freshness one can't recapture completely.

So it was with much trepidation that I started reading The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street by Rob Nunn. Rob being a friend, I wanted to read the whole work, but if I read an entire book on Sherlock Holmes, it seemed like it really would need to be mentioned here. And, man, I'm old and cranky of late.

Luckily, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street is a very comfortable read, so comfortable that I forgot what the back cover said it was: "The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street explores Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original sixty stories through the lens of Sherlock Holmes the criminal instead of Sherlock Holmes the detective."

I kept finding myself going, "Okay, he's still involved with Henry Baker's goose, when is he going to go off the rails and do more crime?" It was a little like reading that similar volume Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould and going "Hey, I know how Sherlock Holmes solved all these cases already! Get some new ones!" I enjoyed Baring-Gould's book as a younger Sherlockian, but now I think it would drive me crazy. Fortunately, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street has the untold tales to lean into for Holmes's criminal exploits and they work well as such. There is much crime here. And it does do some twisty things with the stories we know.

As Rob writes in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street started with the thesis for a Sherlockian article, "What if Sherlock Holmes had really been a master criminal?" and expands it from there, taking in the whole Canon. How would Holmes's interactions with all those familiar stories been different had he been a criminal? And how would they have been almost the same? What would such a thought-experiment show us?

It has always been said that Sherlock Holmes was different after the hiatus, and I think that Rob's work demonstrates that -- Sherlock Holmes seems to be a lot more criminal after he faces Moriarty. John Watson, I think, suffers a bit when Sherlock is doing bad, as he can't entirely be that great soul we see in the original Canon as he becomes a lot more active as a partner in crime than he was as a partner in detection. If Robert Mueller was going after Sherlock Holmes in the late 1890s, Watson would be going down first. (Fortunately, Lestrade was no Mueller, and Holmes was no . . . well, you get it.)

So, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street: better for newbies than oldies, perhaps, but a book that'll definitely give you something to think about. It's available on Amazon and priced right for Christmas giving. And as with so many Sherlockian works by new writers of late, twenty years from now, you'll want to have added it to your collection when said writer's later works come out.

And that is the great part about having been a Sherlockian for forty years. You don't have to hunt for these things, because you bought them forty years ago.

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