A Very Fine Encounter Between Holmes, Watson, and Samuel Clemens
I read a LOT of Sherlock Holmes stories – probably a couple-hundred of them every year. I do this as both a fan who has been collecting, reading, and chronologizing them for what’s unnervingly approaching half-a-century (!), and also as someone who edits a number of traditional Holmes anthologies every year. Since I started doing that in 2015, my Holmes-reading time has been decidedly skewed toward stories those sent to me by contributing authors, and I enjoy each one of those printed out on paper and with a red pen in hand. Thus, it sometimes takes me a little time to get caught up on those narratives published in book form that haven’t first passed through my greedy and thankful hands. That’s why I’m nearly two years overdue in reviewing this remarkable book, “Diamond Jubilee”, and for that I apologize. When it first appeared, it came highly recommended, but I didn’t have time then to dive into it. I’ve now corrected that mistake.
This is a very well-written book, and when Mr. Schullery reached into Watson’s tin dispatch box, he grabbed and retrieved a very satisfying tale. In it, Holmes meets Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
The story starts simply enough: A few days before the Jubilee festivities, Clemens visits Holmes and Watson in the familiar Baker Street rooms, where he explains that an unusual looking figure that he saw long ago in another country is now in England, where Clemens and his family are trying to live in seclusion while he finishes a book, and also while they grieve over the recent passing of his daughter. But their peace is shattered when the mysterious figure enters their home.
From this small beginning, a globe-shaking plot unfolds. Through Watson’s eyes, we visit some unusual London locations, including the mazelike warrens underneath the city where horrible forms of gambling occur. Along the way, Watson makes friends with Clemens as the story hurtles toward an unforgettable and dangerous conclusion amidst the capital’s celebrations.
While Sherlock Holmes’s name is in the title, this is truly Watson’s story. Holmes is off-stage for a great deal of the time, while our favorite Doctor, along with Clemens, is engaged in the final battle of wits with a memorable killer.
There have been several other meetings between Holmes and Samuel Clemens, including Daniel Victor’s wonderful “Seventeen Minutes to Baker Street”, Bill Peschel’s excellent “The Casebook of Twain and Holmes”, and Dan Simmons massive but often misguided “The Fifth Heart”. Now this wonderful title joins them.
I’ve seen no indications that Mr. Schullery has written any other Holmes stories, but I hope that he’s pulled a few more from the Tin Box, and that they’re in some stage of preparation. I’ll be happy to read them, and if any of them happen to be short stories, he can send them my way for inclusion in those aforementioned Holmesian anthologies.
David Marcum (Sherlockian editor and author has written more than sixty Sherlock Holmes stories and edited over 500).
Diamond Jubilee: Sherlock Holmes, Mark Twain, and the Peril of the Empire is available from this site (and we'll plant a tree as part of our #bookstotrees project) the Strand Magazine (special offer), Amazon USA , Kindle, Audio, and all good bookstores.