Sherlock Holmes For The 21st Century: Essays On New Adaptations edited by Lynette Porter (book review).

‘Sherlock Holmes For The 21st Century’ is a series of essays produced from various academics covering the use of the Sherlock Holmes character in current media.

Sherlock Holmes is almost constantly on our screens. Well, it would be if only more of it could be churned out. Instead, we have been teased with very short series of ‘Sherlock’ from the BBC but slightly drowned in 24 episodes a season of ‘Elementary’. Robert Downey Jr. has given us ‘his’ Sherlock and thus we have an ample bucket of background material for those who wish to immerse themselves in the study of this enduring character. This book predates the ‘Elementary’ production, so no doubt there will be a slew of further research

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few that address the issue of sexuality of the two main leads. The chapter ‘Bromance Is So Passé: Robert Downey Jr’s Queer Paratexts’ looks at how the movie is sold as a tease about the relationship. ‘The Noble Bachelor And The Crooked Man’ uses BBC ‘Sherlock’ to examine the issues of sexuality. After all, should we be concerned if they are gay or so-called straight when these are meant to be mystery stories?

‘The Process Of Elimination’ is a fascinating look at how the PBS episodes differ from the BBC uncut originals and how the meaning can be changed or lost by the snips necessary to fit in the advertising breaks. Those choices could be crucial to understanding the plot. Editing is all, after all, and the examples used here show how easily meaning can slip onto the cutting room floor.

One of the most interesting essays is ‘A Singular Case Of Identity’ which looks at Holmes surrogates for our times. Detective Robert Goren of ‘Law And Order: Criminal Intent’ is one detective who operate as a Holmes in the 21st century and he is contrasted with Agent Pendergast from a series of novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The creator of ‘Law And Order’ has continually stated that Goren is Holmes although he operates as part of the establishment here. The author Rhonda Harris Taylor puts forward the theory that this is necessary as it is/was believed that the distrust of the loner comes from post 9/11 sensibilities. As she states here, it is necessary for these characters to be recognised as Holmes by fans and she calls them avatars for the original. Since then, of course, we have taken on board not an avatar but another Holmes in the form of Johnny Lee Miller working as a consultant for the NYPD in ‘Elementary’ which shows no signs of stopping after 4 seasons.

Not combining itself to the TV and movie adaptations and creation a chapter looks at Anthony Horowitz’s authorised novel, ‘The House Of Silk’. Given that there are so many unauthorised Holmes stories is probably appropriate. It is also a moot point these days as Sherlock Holmes is far beyond being authorised. As the book points out, once Conan Doyle decided to kill his hated hero, it was the public who breathe life into him and continue to demand he lives.

Finally, Neil Gaiman gets an honourable mention in ‘Bookends Of The Great Detective’s Life’ as he carefully places our eponymous hero into Science Fiction (yay). He is not alone as if you care to look Sherlock Holmes is everywhere and everywhen.

This set of essays may introduce you to new variations on the character or simply enhance your enjoyment of the Sherlock Holmes incarnations. There is food for thought in every chapter and no doubt some interesting debate in class.

Sue Davies

December 2016

(pub: McFarland. 220 page enlarged paperback. Price: £27.95 (UK), $22.96 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78646-840-9)

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