Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories must be among some of the most covered, adapted and reinterpreted tales of all time. The slightly removed, consulting detective and his loyal companion have appeared in various forms in a multitude of literary reboots and reimaginings over the last 130 years and there have been over 250 screen adaptations of Doyle’s works. There is a reason for this, and it is a reason Narelle M Harris sets out to explore in The Only One in the World, her collection of thirteen stories which take the concept of Holmes and Watson and their various traits and foibles back to their fundamentals and applies these ideas in a diverse range of scenarios and contexts.
The thirteen stories range wildly across time and place. Jason Franks’ Sharaku Homura and the Heart of Iron has Holmes as a Japanese investigator coming to South Africa during the apartheid era and meeting Dr Wizntiz, who calls himself Watson so as not to be easily identified as Jewish. Kerry Greenwood and David Greagg set their Holmesian tale The Saga of the Hidden Treasure in an ancient Viking community. In S.H.E.R.L.O.C.K, Atlin Merrick reimagines Holmes as a benevolent crime busting AI with the help of a PhD wielding computer scientist called Watson. There are stories set in ancient Egypt (Prince Ha-mahes and the Adventure of the Stoned Mason by LJM Owen), early 20th Century New Orleans (The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy by Greg Herren) and Wilhelmian Berlin (Lisa Fessler’s The Problem of the Lying Author).
What these stories have in common is a love of the idea of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and their connection. The super observant, sometimes coldly logical detective and his more hot headed, usually war veteran companion. But they also play with the form. In Lucy Sussex’s Mistress Islet and the General’s Son is set in Medieval England and casts the main characters are servants (and outsiders), J M Redmann’s A Study in Lavender imagines Holmes as a “diva drag” detective supported by former teacher and bartender Jane Watson, and Natalie Conyer’s The Adventure of the Disappearing Village riffs on the classic Yiddish folktales of the genial but foolish ‘Wise Men of Chelm’.
Not to get too geeky but science fiction lovers will be familiar with the idea of the multiverse – different versions of our reality. The idea has hit the mainstream recently with big budget TV shows like The Man in the High Castle, and Marvel’s Loki which has also introduced the idea of “variants” – versions of one character from alternate realities who share common traits but are otherwise very different. Put in this light, The Only One in the World can be seen as an exercise in exploring the commmonalities and differences between Holmes and Watson variants. There is a lot of fun to be had with this idea and the authors that Harris has gathered for this collection have clearly enjoyed the challenge. And while the stories generally stand on their own, being a Conan Doyle fan will definitely help.