The twist in this anthology is that it’s not about the Holmes we know. He isn’t the gentleman living in Victorian London. These stories are set in present-day South Africa or Australia, 1960s New York, a dystopian London or a high fantasy world. Holmes and Watson aren’t always men (though there could have been done more with that: there are 14 stories, one has a female Watson, one a female Holmes and in one both are girls). They also aren’t always a doctor and a consulting detective. They are an architect and a builder, comedians, a dentist and a clone, a wizard and a demon or a drug-dealer and a (very clever) addict.
That brings us to an interesting philosophical question: when does a story stop being a Holmes-pastiche and turns into something like Psych or Jonathan Creek. Neither show can deny that it took inspiration from Doyle’s Holmes but the characters, their backstories and their relationship with each other are so different that saying “Shawn is a Californian Sherlock Holmes” would be rather odd.
Admittedly that line does not go where I expected it before I started this book. I easily got the “Holmes-feeling” in Parallels, the story where he and Watson are teenage-girls and even saw them as the great Wizard Wu Tsan and his conjured demon Sherlock in The Final Conjuration. Other stories, in which they still were two young men and just the setting was different I was left thinking “these aren’t the Holmes and Watson I know”. (And the fact that some others went a bit overboard with allusions to the original canon couldn’t change that).
There is also the small matter of the mysteries in the stories. If I read a Holmes-story I expect a mystery at the beginning, some sleuthing and at the end Holmes smugly explaining the solution. In most stories that does happen. But we also get some in which there is no solution at all, stories with no real mystery and one in which Holmes isn’t involved in the investigation at all. (A friendly alien explains everything…yeah).
So is this a good detective-story anthology? It’s enjoyable. None of the stories are brilliant, some are good, most are pretty average.
Is it a good Holmes-anthology? It’s not as good as an anthology with this concept could have been. Or perhaps my idea of what is or isn’t Holmes is a bit to narrow-minded for this. But some stories just didn’t work for me. Additionally you could probably also question why ‘anywhere in time and space’ still means United States in a third of all stories.