Saturday, July 16, 2022

"Sherlock Holmes fans will love . . ."

 There's a question that I perpetually have when reading book reviews from some source whose primary purpose is book reviews, and that's this: Was the phrase "Sherlock Holmes fans will love [insert title here]" written by a Sherlockian? Or was it inserted by some bored reviewer just looking for something positive to say about a book that they really weren't all that interested in?

Perhaps I'm just a cynical old fan-boy, but that phrase has bothered me since I was a cynical young fan-boy. 

Does the review mention any other Sherlock Holmes tales by way of comparison, the less classic the better? Do they get into writing about Holmes at a level beyond "smart detective who solves murders?" What are the subtle bonafides that show the reviewer is someone I can trust?

I suppose one asks certain questions of any review, but that moment when a reviewer seems to parse out Sherlock Holmes fans as the main readers who will enjoy a book -- "Well, those people will like it!" -- is always a moment I start to question the review's worth. Without any other indicators that the writer is a kindred spirit, that moment is the one I tend to go, "not one of us."

An over-reaction? A bias from being a part of a fandom that, even in its hey-est of heydays still numbers far below things like any sort of foot-ball or boy band? (Find me an office water cooler with, "Hey, did you read the latest Sherlock Holmes Magazine yet?" as a common convo and I shall go work there.) Maybe. Or perhaps it's empathy.

I was once asked to write an introduction for a pastiche that really wasn't that good. I had my reasons for not turning it down -- I was the second or third choice behind much more respectable Sherlockians who didn't have t he reason I had for accepting the challenge. And what I wound up writing was something that was basically "Sherlock Holmes is great. This has a character called Sherlock Holmes in it." Since the introduction was a part of the finished product, I have tried to justify my part by the fact that anyone reading it would have already bought the book, unlike a review. But, man, the struggle of writing that piece has stayed with me.

Ironically, the preceding little diatribe was inspired by Ray Betzner's post of a 1967 book review by a man whose Sherlockian credentials are as impeccable as they come with the headline "Recommended for all Sherlockians." Just the fact that the word "Sherlockians" was used in the publication's headline shows that someone in the process had some knowledge of the fandom, and if it was Starrett's editor who gained that tidbit from just working with his writer, well, that's a very good sign.

But my negative reaction to that sort of "Sherlock Holmes fans will love XYZ" review remark has been with me a very long time, because I've been seeing it a very long time, especially from those weird little review-churning spots that novice writers tend to quote with delight. Proceed with caution when it turns up.

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