Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years (Bloomsbury, 2000).

Here is a book that I wish I could say that I enjoyed more than I did. Jamyang Norbu is a Tibetan-rights activist who has lived in exile for decades. I found this promising Holmes pastiche, published in England and America under this title and more recently available under its original name, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, misfiled at a local library and suspected my wife might enjoy it. We both quite liked Laurie King's The Game, and I'm a big fan of William S. Baring-Gould's speculation about what Sherlock was up to during his years underground following the incident at Reichenbach Falls.

Fellow Baring-Gould fans will be disappointed to read that Norbu doesn't allow Holmes to linger in Europe, and there's no mention at all of Irene Adler, because Norbu ships him off immediately for India with a packed itinerary in the company of Rudyard Kipling's fat Bengali spy Huree Chunder Mookerjee. Doyle was pretty clear that Holmes did spend some time in the region and perform some assistance with politically sensitive matters around the Forbidden City in Tibet, and I can certainly see how this would appeal to Norbu's own interests, but it truly is a shame that he elected to fill in practically every possible blank and account for darn near every minute of Holmes' time between "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House."

As far as stories go, taken on its own it's still a bit dry for my liking. It's interesting to see Holmes cut off completely from his resources and unable to use his name as a calling card, but I never felt that Norbu really captured his voice. This Holmes is too friendly, too cordial, too willing to relate his past triumphs, and not at all the same man who, in King's novels, really wished that Doyle fellow had kept his mouth shut. If you have read The Game, then I can recommend this as a curious counterpoint, but otherwise it was an unsatisfying distraction.

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