Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Supernatural Sherlocks

Supernatural Sherlocks: Stories from the Golden Age of the Occult Detective (2018) by Nick Rennison (ed) provides readers with fifteen stories of the supernatural, ostensibly with a detective cast in the Sherlock Holmes mold. The stories are interesting and atmospheric and enjoyable as ghost stories. But....

My main quibble with this book is that if one is going to describe the investigators found herein as "Supernatural Sherlocks" then those investigators should resemble a consulting detective more than a psychic ghost hunter. There should be solutions to the puzzles In truth, most of these are ghost stories and tales of the supernatural. Period. Yes, there are "detectives" who are investigating the phenomena, but it is rare that any of these detectives produce concrete solutions and most of the stories that do offer solutions don't offer plausible reasons for those solutions.

Case in point: The first of the stories to involve anything like detective work is "The Blue Room" by Lettice Galbraith. Mr. Maxwell, a then-student at Oxford and later professor, and Miss Erristoun manage to sort out the haunting of the titular room, but there is no string of investigations to bring them to the solution. Miss Erristoun has what can only be described as a hallucination cum nightmare while staying the night in the room that shows her where a secret panel is that hides important material. But there is no reason for her subconscious (or whatever) to lead her there. IF Maxwell's and her discoveries in the library had revealed that there were secret panels to be found in the house, then at least there would be reason for her to sleepwalk or whatever and find the thing. But no--we'll just put it down to ghostly forces leading her where she needs to go.

Vance in "The Boy of Blackstock" sounds and acts the most like Holmes. He says, "It's much too early yet to form an opion. You ought to know by now, Dexter, that I never jump to conclusions." Like Holmes, he keeps his theories and observations to himself. The events are given a human solution up to a point, but the ending is left open to speculation--was "the mischievous boy of Blackstock" who appeared to Lord Rystone the human agent or really a ghost?

I don't mind ghost stories. Tales of the supernatural are good for this time of year--a nice little bit of spine-tingling while one is safely ensconced on a couch with a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate at hand. But don't try and convince me that any Holmesian detecting is going on...that won't do at all. The stories that had Holmes confronting the supposed supernatural always had him producing a perfectly reasonable human-related solution. He did not rely on supernatural answers and defenses. I feel like Rennison (or whoever came up with the title/theme) was relying on the name Sherlock Holmes to pull in readers. It certainly attracted my attention and I couldn't help feeling let down when most of the "detectives" in question weren't really all that Holmes-like. ★★

[Finished 9/30/18] 


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