July 29, 2008

R. Holmes & Co. **

** R. Holmes & Co., John Kendrick Bangs, 1906

As a kid I devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and read them again many years later. However, Doyle is dead and he left behind only 4 novels and 56 short stories about Holmes. It doesn't take long to exhaust the oeuvre, so one must look beyond the canon for fresh material. A skim of the reading lists from 1992, 1994 and 1995, will reveal that I have amassed a decent collection of extra-canonical works, some brilliant, some abysmal.

R. Holmes & Co ranks below the middle of that scale. It's clever and diverting, but has, from my perspective, some fatal flaws that keep it from rising out of the ratings basement.

A bit of history may be in order for those not familiar with the genre. The character of Raffles, the gentleman thief, was created by E. W. Hornung, who was the brother-in-law of Doyle in the 1890s, the same time Doyle was writing the Holmes stories. Raffles is the evil twin of Holmes, brilliant and urbane, but using his powers for ill-gotten gain rather than for good.

In 1905, Bangs evidently got the idea to create a mash up of Raffles and Holmes, creating Raffles Holmes, the son of Sherlock Holmes and Marjorie Raffles, the daughter of Arthur Raffles, the thief. The second story in the collection chronicles how this came to pass.

My biggest compliant about the stories is that the premise makes no sense. Raffles Holmes seeks out the narrator, Jenkins, to make a bundle by having Jenkins publish his exploits as Dr. Watson did for Holmes and Bunny Manders did for Raffles. However, R. Holmes does some decidedly questionable and sometimes illegal things in the stories. If you're going to be deceiving folks to make money, you can hardly then publish the stories and expect to get away with it or continue to do so in the future.

My second complaint is that the language is unnecessarily stilted, even more so than the originals it draws from.

R. Holmes & Co is available at the Gutenberg Project if you want to check it out for yourself.

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